Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Moazzam Begg freed: UK drops charges

Blatant Attempt to Stop Humanitarian Aid to Islamic People in Syria Fails on Legal Grounds.

On Wednesday, October 2, 2014 Moazzam Begg was released from prison after all charges against him were dropped due to "insufficient evidence" that Begg's trips to Syria involved terrorism. Begg's lawyer, Gareth Peirce, who described her client as "a good man trying to the right thing in a very difficult world," told the Guardian that "he should never have been charged, as his activities did not amount to terrorism."

The former Guantanamo inmate had received a generous payout after suing the UK for wrongful imprisonment that enabled him to buy a house in England for his family. Begg became a tireless activist for prisoner rights and served as Outreach Director for CAGE. He was re-arrested in February by the Crown Prosecution Service the day before his report on Syria was scheduled to be released. He was being held without bail in prison, until his sudden release Wednesday.

Government prosecutor Christopher Hehir told the court, "The prosecution have recently become aware of relevant material, in the light of which, after careful and anxious consideration, the conclusion has been reached that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction in this case. The prosecution therefore offers no evidence." Mirza Begg, brother of Moazzam Begg said, "We are just so happy to have Moazzam home with us in time for Eid."

Andy Worthington wrote that "it was impossible to believe that Begg, one of the most scrutinized Muslims in the UK, would have engaged in any activities that could be construed as terrorism."

UK security services had already interviewed Begg before his last trip to Syria in April 2013. Knowing that he was doing research on the US torture rendition program under the Assad regime, they did not prevent him from traveling. However, his passport was taken away upon his return. It is remarkable that the British government has now admitted that they had no case against Begg and dropped the charges - especially compared to the common practice in the US of using prejudice to sway the jury to convict Muslim defendants in the absence of clear and convincing evidence.

Neither the Crown Prosecution Service nor the local police would say what "new material" had impacted the government's decision that the standard of proof had not been met. The local Muslim community and other supporters were extremely active in advocating for Begg and insisting on his innocence and his importance to human rights activism. It is probable that public pressure played a role in his release, especially at this time when the suspicion and demonization of British Muslims that have gone to Syria has increased in intensity.

Amandla Thomas-Johnson, spokesperson for CAGE expressed relief that the ordeal, which had largely paralyzed the prisoner advocacy organization, was over.

"Moazzam Begg and his family have suffered over the past 7 months not only because of his incarceration but also because of the financial sanctions imposed upon him, as a result of which his bank accounts (including joint accounts) were frozen or shut down. His wife was unable to pay her utility bills that were held in their joint names without receiving a license from the Treasury, and it became a criminal offense to even try and support his family with money and food during this period. Our thoughts are with his family and we share in the joy of receiving him home again."

"We call on the CPS to review all ongoing Syria-related terrorism trials to review the evidence and drop charges. We believe many of these trials and the campaigns against Muslim charities and individuals working in Syria are politically motivated fishing expeditions using the wide scope of terror laws and Prevent policy to criminalize Muslims. We also ask that the British state reviews its policies of harassment intimidation and politically motivated prosecutions of Muslims involved in the Syria crisis."

"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 the month before his arrest.

Moazzam Begg's past articles can be found on the CAGE website. For example his interviews with British Muslims fighting in Syria and explanation of fighting groups: and his Islamic explanation of Jihad.

It remains to be seen whether Begg's written report on torture rendition involving Syrian prisons, confiscated by British police, will now be allowed to be published.

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