Moazzam Begg: released without charge

Back in February, I wrote at this site about my concern on hearing of the arrest of Moazzam Begg, ex Guantanamo Bay detainee. I had listened to Moazzam speak about his experiences in Belfast in 2009 (my article reporting on his talk at St Mary’s College about his incarceration without charge post 9/11, originally written for the Amnesty International Belfast and Beyond Blog, can be read here).

The BBC reports today:

“Mr Begg’s trial was due to start on Monday, following a hearing at which he had pleaded not guilty to all the charges. But at a pre-trial review on Wednesday morning lasting just five minutes prosecution lawyers told the court that the CPS had decided there was insufficient evidence to continue with the prosecution. Mr Begg was appearing via video link from Belmarsh. He spoke only to confirm his name and made no reaction when the judge, Mr Justice Wilkie, formally acquitted him of all charges.”

The BBC news article quotes the Chief Constable indicating that Moazzam’s case “has challenged the relationship between … the police and some of the communities we serve”.  The BBC Home Affairs Correspondent spells out what is implicit here, commenting: “This entire affair has therefore damaged relations between the British security services and some Muslim communities.”

Why should it only be “Muslim communities” whose relationship with the State agencies risks being “damaged” by the lengthy detention of an ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee and human rights advocate under terrorist charges that were dropped?  I’m sure it is not only the so-called “Muslim community”- I always find it unrealistic to think of the views of any diverse group of people as being as homogeneous as they appear when dubbed with the problematic, one-size-fits-all designation of “community” – who will question everything about this case, and feel very angry about it.

Surely this kind of arrest, detention and release-without-charge upon disclosure of secret state evidence after months on remand should concern us all?  It speaks to all of us about our freedoms  (and, here, specifically, freedoms of expression, of movement and of association) and the relationship between the individual and the organs of the State (here, the police, the justice system, but, in particular, M15). This individual vs State relationship lies at the heart of the concept of human rights. And Moazzam’s arrest and detention were the arrest and detention of someone who has spoken out with great personal insight and intelligence about human rights abuses by the US and the UK; indeed, he went beyond giving evidence and spoke out powerfully in favour of upholding human rights (as I witnessed first hand at St Mary’s College in 2009, and as Amnesty International noted in their statement of 2010 in the wake of the public Gita Sahgal controversy).

The Guardian reports today:

“The terrorism case against former Guantánamo inmate Moazzam Begg collapsed after MI5 belatedly handed over to police and prosecutors a series of documents that detailed the agency’s extensive contacts with him before and after his trips to Syria, the Guardian has learned.The documents included minutes of meetings that MI5 officers and the agency’s lawyers held with Begg, at which he discussed his travel plans and explained that he was assisting opposition fighters in their war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. On seeing the material, Crown prosecutors realised that it corroborated Begg’s defence case: he insists that he had always been perfectly candid with MI5, and says that the agency had assured him that no attempt would be made to hinder him if he wanted to return to Syria. Begg’s lawyers had disclosed that the meetings had taken place earlier this year during a hearing in open court during which they made an unsuccessful attempt to secure Begg’s release on bail. On Wednesday prosecutors told an Old Bailey judge that they had “recently become aware of relevant material”, and would be offering no evidence against Begg.”