One law for non-Muslims

One law for non-Muslims


Written by: Victoria Brittain

Victoria Brittain on the home secretary’s double standards in the Gary McKinnon case.

Only former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson chose to stand aside publicly from the wave of support for the highly popular and welcome decision by Theresa May last week to stop the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US. It was the end of a ten year legal saga involving several home secretaries.

In earlier years Johnson had been a key player in this story, rejecting Gary McKinnon’s lawyers’ attempts to have him tried instead in the UK. He revealed last week that in his time as home secretary the US had been prepared to let McKinnon serve his prison term in the UK after a US trial.

It was a telling detail, and one of many in this saga, which illustrate the UK’s unequal treatment meted out to young Muslim men compared to white non-Muslim men. Britain does not like hearing that racism and Islamophobia are alive and well today as they were thirteen years ago when Lord Macpherson identified ‘institutional racism’ in the police, in relation to the Stephen Lawrence case. The events of the last month around extradition to the US are hard to read in any other way.

There was a torrent of media praise for Theresa May’s ‘bravery in standing up to the US’, perhaps epitomised by Gary McKinnon’s campaigning mother later tweeting for tweets to support Theresa May: ‘she needs our help’.

The Daily Telegraph had reported exclusively that US Attorney General Eric Holder was refusing to take Theresa May’s calls and that US officials were saying relations between her and the Obama administration ‘were finished’. In fact Theresa May has, as she needed to after a number of blunders, strengthened her position in her core constituency by a popular decision that one lawyer unconnected with any extradition cases characterised as ‘quite breath-taking in its hypocrisy and its timing’.

Gary McKinnon, like the five Muslim men extradited from the UK to the US two weeks ago, was accused of crimes defined as related to terrorism. US lawyers’ affidavits indicated that he would not get bail in the US (as he had in the UK) and that he would be subject to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) of isolation and sensory deprivation while in pre-trial detention. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture defines this US regime of isolation as torture. Extensive documentation on it exists, much of it from well-known US lawyers.

Here few MPs, lawyers or human rights organisations took on the government on this territory: that extradition to the US today for terrorism related offences will expose people to conditions of torture.

Instead the battles over the extraditions of Gary McKinnon, and Babar Ahmed and Talha Ahsan, were over changing the controversial extradition law (which Theresa May has now announced she is to do). There was wide ranging support in Parliament for this. And a major campaign was run by the Daily Mail, in support of Gary McKinnon. An additional point was frequently made of  Gary McKinnon’s suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. Talha Ahsan also suffers from the same condition.

The home secretary announced her decision, to cheers in Parliament, based on medical reports that Gary McKinnon was likely to commit suicide if extradited. Asperger’s was on the back bench.

Mental health concerns were prominent in the legal cases against extradition for both Talha Ahsan and the Egyptian lawyer, Adel Abul Bari, as Theresa May was undoubtedly well aware. In their cases she chose to ignore that issue.

Despite facing no charges here Talha Ahsan had spent six years in prison, Abdul Bari 13, Babar Ahmed eight. Gary McKinnon was at home on bail.

Now these men are, as the US lawyers warned, likely to be facing SAMs for the year they will be in pre-trial detention until their cases begin in October 2013. Liberty welcomed the McKinnon decision as ‘a great day for rights, freedom and justice in the UK’. But more accurately it was a day deeply over-shadowed with the gross unfairness of what was carried out two weeks before to five Muslim men, and the inescapable knowledge of what is likely to be happening to them over the next year before their trials, cut away from families, friends, lawyers they know. Afterwards can anyone imagine a suggestion they serve their sentences here?

Related links

Read an IRR News story: ‘European collusion in human rights abuses’

Free Babar Ahmad

Free Talha Ahsan


Victoria Brittain is the author of Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror, forthcoming 2013, Pluto Press.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

3 thoughts on “One law for non-Muslims

  1. The duality of the application of legislation and duplicitous govern”mental” policy is a reflection of the deeper cess pits of the material economic society. Torture issues exist in the uk.

  2. The double standards truly are breathtaking as is the general ignorance and indifference/outright hatred displayed by many members of the general public when commenting on articles the double standards. If you don’t believe me go and have a read of the comments sections one the many articles that has appeared recently.

    In relation to the whole Gary McKinnon/Talha Ahsan controversy the most common line you hear is that Gary McKinnon was only a well-meaning prankster whereas Talha Ahsan was a “terrorist” supporter. Aside from a blatant disregard of the presumption of innocence in Talha’s case this also belies an ignorance of the facts and is legally speaking a fallacious argument. The alleged offences that both men are accused of is actually IRRELEVANT to the decision as to whether they should have been extradited.

    The relevant factor is that both men were assessed by medical experts to be suicide risks if they were extradited. The lawyers for Gary McKinnon have argued that the medical evidence in his case was unique but this fails to take into account the extra severe conditions that Talha is facing/will face at ADX Florence supermax prison under the SAMs regime. Yet there was a marked difference in outcome in each case. The politicians must realise that this has not gone unnoticed. Perhaps they don’t care.

  3. If England is not a racist country I, a briton of Pakistani descent, will eat my own nose up.

    Kimchi Stew is totally correct in observing that the general public in the UK approved the heinous extradtion of Babar Ahmad. The appropiate and just action would have been not only to set him free but also to compensate him £20 million for every year imprisoned WITHOUT chage. He was the longest serving prisoner in the UK without ever being charged whilst ‘white’ Britons were calling him ‘evil’ and defending the treacherous extradtion. We know who is evil and it definately wasn’t him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.