12 men were arrested mostly Pakistani students as a result of a police operation ‘Pathway’ on 8 April 2009. At the time of writing this article they have yet to see their lawyers, local embassy staff and or a facility to call their families of their whereabouts. Whatever, positive or negative we are hearing is through British media. Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a statement after those arrests saying that police have foiled ‘a very big terrorist plot’ with a hope to have intercepted a big gang in the North of England. Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Porter who is heading the North West CTU said on the day that “Today’s action is part of a continuing investigation and we have acted on intelligence received.” So far, all those currently detained are on periodical remand until a decision is made to either charge them within 28 days or to release or deport them and they have limited access to basic rights guaranteed by European Convention on Human Rights 1950 as well as country’s Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1925 (s.25) such as free access to their attorneys, contacting their families, medical check up to avoid torture, interpreters, counsellor service access etc.
Though we are living in Great Britain ‘the mother’ of human rights but 9/11 and 7/7 has changed the whole scenario. The rights of individuals are scarified slowly at the altar of the rights of a state and on the name of ‘public safety’ we are slowly drifting into a nanny state where our each and every action is monitored through thousands of cameras and our email messages and phone calls are taped, though rightly so due to the new fear we are in. But miserably these pieces of evidence are yet to see the court room in any criminal trial which requires positive legislation in the parliament and due to distrust & lack of international intelligence sharing mechanism often those mails, messages and motions are misinterpreted, and hence we see sudden arrests, media flogging and either mistrial or trial of error.
9/11 was no doubt the most tragic incident in this decade which paved way for an exemplary administrative powers in the hands of the governments and flourished tit for tat hatred & vengeance. I am all for necessary measures to root out sympathisers of the worst kind, but having said that this uphill task cannot be completed alone by any power unless joint collaboration is erected at international level. Pakistan at its soil handed freely British Citizens who were on either death row, or facing criminal trials on clemency petitions and counsellor access was never denied. In Dr Afia Siddiqui, Khalid Sheikh’s and Bin Yam Mohammed cases despite evidence of torture they were in fact handed over to USA, and UK in an extra judicial process , however their own citizens are yet to see their counsellor staff to determine their true identity, well being and defence mechanism if they are charged. That is a big challenge for the Democratic government, newly liberated Chief Justice and vocal opposition.
Pakistan as a nation has suffered a great loss not only economically but physically. Its army has lost over a thousand soldiers. Thousands of civilians lay their lives and scores got injured and displaced as a result of country’s active participation in the north of their country bordering Afghanistan. Pakistani community on the whole condemn terrorism in any form or shape and firmly believe in civil and political emancipation of people by protecting its own heritage and culture, and that’s what they seek from international community a recognition and equal treatment. West must recognise the spill over effect of the ‘war on terror’ on its soil and allow such treatment which is befitting to its role, or at least reciprocal to the treatment British citizens get in Pakistan. This sensational exercise will affect around 10,000 students who willingly come every year to UK educational establishments in this 13 billion pound worth international education industry to UK economy.
Clause 29 of the Magna Carta ensures that ‘no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or have his liberties removed but by lawful judgement of his peers’. This 800 years old tradition is mirrored in Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 where it was pledged that “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law” and due process of law and fair trial were considered as the basic ingredient of a citizen’s freedom. Article 6 of the same convention ensures that citizens are guaranteed a fair trial, a right to an interpreter and an attorney to defend themselves if they are to face a charge by a state.
I must admit British courts despite all clouds played genuinely a praiseworthy role by separating the chaff from grain. They ensured that due process of law, fair trial and citizens liberties remain intact whilst govt ensures to protect the public and look after the interest of the state and judgements in last 10 years post 9/11 are the epitome of such confidence on the courts. However, life would be miserable if we are to live on fear and sacrifice the basic rights and these liberties which were achieved by continuous sacrifices of our ancestors. Threats emanating from a few fanatic or outfit can be defeated by mutual cooperation and sharing the intelligence and pre arrest home work. Those involved in terrorism must face an exemplary punishments but the process must be crystal to root out any doubts of ‘miscarriage of justice’ in the minds of the victim community.
Looking at the treatment of missing persons where hundreds were handed over to CIA by Pakistani regime & military authorities. They were transferred without due process of law in the absence of any extradition treaty and without a judicial oversight and looking at USA’s military trials in Guantanamo Bay in not too distant past and admission of water boarding tactics at detainees, its still reassuring that whatever the case may be British subjects are safe in securing their basic human rights such as right to have an attorney, free trial, innocent until proven guilty and right to liberty through its free, independent, robust and pro justice Civil and Constitutional Courts, only if the matter is brought before them, people have faith in them. I think its time for the British authorities to come clean and either charge those who are arrested and prosecute or if they cannot pull any rabbit out of their hat, then release them at once as ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.