Elham Asaad Buaras
Human rights activist and former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg was released from prison after seven terrorism charges against him related to Syria were dropped on October 1 five days before his trial was due to begin.
His release has prompted the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) to ask why he was arrested while his supporters described his seven months incarceration as an example of “criminalization of any Muslim that has been to Syria”.
Begg, 46, who spent nearly two years at the US detention camp before being released without charge, was facing seven charges including attending a terrorist training camp, facilitating terrorism and possession of a document likely to be of use to a terrorist before the case against him collapsed.
Begg was arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences following a trip to Syria. He was cleared after the prosecution told the Old Bailey there was insufficient evidence against him.
West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the charges against Begg were dismissed after new material showed there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. Police did not specify what the new material relating to the case was.
ACC Marcus Beale said, “New material has recently been disclosed to police and CPS, which has a significant impact on key pieces of evidence that underpinned the prosecution’s case. Our criminal justice system – quite rightly – demands a very high standard of proof.”
Begg’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, paid tribute to her client who she described as unique “good and brave man”. She told The Muslim News Begg “has spent the near decade since he was released from the torture of Bagram and Guantanamo in attempting to wake the world up to injustice and to comprehend its causes and effects. His intelligent voice, of reason and tolerance, is desperately needed now. We are relieved he is free again to contribute to our understanding of each other.”
Begg, from Hall Green, Birmingham, was arrested by West Midlands Counter Terrorism Police in February along with three other people.
Human rights groups criticised the arrest of Begg as an act of “harassment against Muslim individuals” who were travelling to the civil war-torn Syria in order to provide humanitarian relief.
Begg, who had been open about his trips to Syria, had his passport taken off him by the Home Office in December 2013 after it ruled it was “not in the public interest” for him to travel to the country. He said he was in Syria to investigate claims regarding British and American complicity in torture in the country.
He spent nearly two years in Guantanamo Bay without trial after being detained in Pakistan on suspicion of being a member of Al-Qaida.
Following his release, Begg successfully sued the UK Government for damages after it emerged British ministers agreed to send some British Muslims to the US-run prison despite being aware they risked being abused there.
Asim Qureshi, Research Director of campaign group Cage, where Begg works as an Outreach Director, told The Muslim News, “This has been a testing time for Moazzam, his family and the Muslim community. The criminalisation of virtually any Muslim that has been to Syria has only increased in intensity.”
CAGE also accused the Government of squandered an opportunity to secure the release of Alan Henning when they arrested Begg and targeted.
A spokesman for MCB said the debacle poses questions as, “to why he was arrested in the first place, and equally importantly, whether the current imprecise definition of terrorism and extremism is leading to miscarriages of justice.”