Moazzam Begg, who was imprisoned at Guantánamo. Photograph: Murdo Macleod
Former Bagram and Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg was re-arrested on February 26, 2014. On March 1 he was charged with training and aiding terrorists in Syria, to which he pleaded “Not Guilty.” Three other persons were similarly charged.
“All four arrests are connected,” said Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards, “They were pre-planned and intelligence-led.”
Supporters in the London courtroom tweeted: “It was great to see #MoazzamBegg again. Even under such circumstances he was smiling and looked well.”
Protesters gathered afterwards outside the West Midlands Police Headquarters, where Begg is imprisoned.
Begg was arrested the very next day after he published an article, “The real reason behind the confiscation of my passport” on the website of the human rights organization that he founded, CagePrisoners, which states:
“In the summer of 2012 I wrote about the first of my two visits to Syria to investigate leads into cases of British and American complicity in the rendition of terrorism suspects to the regime of Bashar al-Asad. This followed on from something I learned first-hand from CIA and US military intelligence agents who threatened to send me to Egypt or Syria if I failed to co-operate with them during my time in the Bagram prison.”
After his release, Begg began campaigning for prisoners detained at Guantanamo and others held in secret detention sites or who had disappeared after being rendered to countries like Libya, Egypt, and Syria, as part of his work for CagePrisoners.
“We conducted numerous investigations into recurrent reports of extreme torture carried out by the Syrian regime and discovered the complicity of the governments of the US, Canada, France, Sweden, Germany, Denmark and Britain. I was also constantly being invited to speak all over the world about issues pertaining to Guantanamo, torture, the rule of law and the war on terror… In July last year, I visited Syria where I met numerous former prisoners who had been held by the Asad regime as well as a few victims of US and UK rendition…
“A few months later, in October 2012, I was called by an MI5 officer who said they wanted to talk to me about my views on the situation in Syria after having read my article… At the end of the meeting I was assured by MI5 that my proposed return to Syria to continue my work would not be hindered, and it wasn’t. Subsequently, I travelled to Syria without incident… I am certain that the only reason I am being continually harassed – something that began long before any visit to Syria – is because CagePrisoners and I are at the forefront of investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been willfully complicit in torture.”
Last month, British police confiscated his iPad, which contained his report. Three weeks later the British government confiscated his passport stating that his previous visits to Syria had constituted involvement in terrorism. Cageprisoners’s media officer, Cerie Bulliyant states that “the timing [of his arrest] coincides with the planned release of a CAGE report on Syria and a major news piece that was due to be televised soon.”
Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain write: “Crucially, it appears that Begg was given explicit permission to take this trip to Syria by Britain’s MI5… That’s all independent of the bizarre spectacle of charging someone with “terrorism” offenses for allegedly helping rebels which the US government itself is aiding and for whom intervention was advocated by the US president as recently as last year.”
Ghaliyaa Haqq, editor of Free Detainees stated that she is dismayed by Begg’s arrest:
“What would bring even more dismay would be the silence of the human rights community and the Ummah itself. We can’t let that happen! Remember, this is a man who spent nightmarish years in Bagram, and Guantanamo. He was terribly abused, yet when he was finally released – did he go off with his family and live the rest of his life in peace? NO! He is not the sort of man who could do that – he could never ignore his brothers and sisters undergoing terrible struggle and injustice. So he didn’t. We can’t either – we cannot let this happen to him again.”
Asim Qureshi, Research Director of CagePrisoners said: “We are disgusted that Moazzam Begg is being retraumatised with the same guilt by association accusations that resulted in his unlawful incarceration in Guantanamo Bay. We fully support our colleague and see his arrest as politically motivated and as part of a campaign to criminalize legitimate activism.”
UK-based human rights investigator Nawaz Hanif told The Intercept: “The arrest of Moazzam Begg under British anti-terror laws is… utilizing vague terror allegations to stifle investigations into abuses of power….It is pertinent to ask British authorities why Moazzam is being arrested a day before his report on torture and rendition is to be released, and over a year since he last stepped foot in Syria.”
In a statement CAGE said, “This arrest forms a part of the general approach by the UK security agencies which considers any travel to Syria as suspicious. There has been a concerted campaign of harassment against Muslim individuals and charities who get involved in supporting the victims of the Syrian crisis. We do not accept involvement by Moazzam Begg in any form of terrorism. He is simply one of many individuals and charities involved in Syria being viewed with suspicion in an effort to send a message to the wider Muslim community that working in Syria is a no go area for them.
“Moazzam is a leading figure internationally on issues relating to due process and human rights. His advocacy on behalf of the Guantanamo Bay detainees has been recognized across the world, resulting in government’s accepting detainees who could not be returned to their countries of origin. We are also concerned that the Police and the security services are using the wide scope of terrorism laws, and applying them in Syria to set precedents that will make legitimate activity unlawful in future.”
“Everything is terrorism and for those who fear losing their jobs and government funding, terrorism is everything. It is time to change the narrative,” wrote Begg in January of 2014.
In his last Facebook update, posted just hours before his arrest, Begg wrote: “Sometimes knowing too much can be a curse.”