The campaign against the criminalisation of Muslim communities under anti-terror laws stepped up a gear this week as over 300 people protested outside the Home Office.
The emergency protest on 13 August 2004 was called following the re-arrest two weeks earlier of Babar Ahmad, a 30-year-old university IT officer. Babar was first arrested under anti-terror laws in December 2003 and was held for six days of questioning before being released. Following his second arrest, he now faces extradition to the US for alleged involvement in terrorism.
Speaking outside the Home Office, his father Ashfaq Ahmad called on his son to be tried in Britain rather than America. ‘We want justice and a fair trial in Britain not injustice and a show trial in America’, he said. ‘How can anyone expect a fair hearing from a country that continues to defy the world and holds children as young as 13 in Guantanamo? That kind of justice is no justice.’
Ashfaq Ahmad, a retired civil servant, told protestors that he no longer recognises the country he lives in. ‘There was a time’, he said, ‘when the justice system, the impartiality of public servants and regard for the rule of law set this country apart from the rest of the world. I gave my life to this country and committed my children to make their home here. I did so in the expectation that justice, fairness and equality was more than a slogan but a promise to all in this country. Today we see a government bent on creating division and mischief – in particular, demonising Muslims in order to justify wars that have no support from the British public.’
It was a sentiment echoed by Bruce Kent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament who expressed his dismay at the abandoning of long established civil rights, such as habeas corpus, under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. He compared the anti-Muslim hysteria today to that of anti-Catholic hatred in earlier times and said that, where once he was proud of being a British citizen, now he was ‘ashamed’.
Civil rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, who represents some of the Muslim men interned at Belmarsh prison, spoke of the ‘innocent people who are in prison for no reason other than they are Muslim’. She said it was essential that they not become ‘forgotten people’, left to remain in prison for fifteen years as had happened to the Irish men and women wrongly imprisoned in the 1970s and 1980s as suspected terrorists. To that end, more protests were needed at this ‘shameful point in this country’s history’.
The protest was organised by two groups – the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) and Stop Police Terror.
CAMPACC is now urging all community groups to submit their views on the effect of anti-terror laws to the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons which will be holding a series of hearings on the issue over the coming months. The deadline for written submissions from community groups is 14 September 2004. For more information, contact CAMPACC on 020 7586 5892.