[Supporters of Moazzam Begg protest outside West Mid land Police’s HQ on March 1]
By Elham Asaad Buaras
Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg has been remanded in custody after appearing in court in London charged with terror offences related to Syria.
Begg appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on March 1 where he denied the charges of providing terrorist training and of funding terrorism overseas.
The 45-year-old was arrested in a raid on his home in Hall Green, Birmingham, for allegedly travelling to Syria to assist Syrian rebels.
He was among four other people from Birmingham arrested that day. Gerrie Tahari, 44, of Sparkbrook, was charged with facilitating terrorism overseas and also remanded in custody. Two other men, aged 20 and 36, alo remain in police custody.
Police said that none of the arrests were linked to any threat to public safety.
Begg became Outreach Director of human rights group CAGE after his release from Guantánamo in 2005. It campaigns for those it considers to be the victims of the “war on terror”. Prior to his arrest, he had been researching British involvement in torture overseas.
CAGE dismissed Begg’s arrest as “yet another consequence of the ever-expanding reach of the all-encompassing terrorism legislation” and called his “arrest politically motivated.”
Research Director of CAGE, Asim Qureshi, said: “We reiterate our concern that this is a politically motivated arrest and very much bears the hallmarks of trying to criminalise legitimate Muslim activity by reinforcing a climate of fear.”
In a statement to The Muslim News CAGE said Begg has been “very open” about his travel “and his objectives, including importantly exposing British complicity in rendition and torture. The timing of Moazzam’s arrest, given his travel to Syria took place in December 2012, requires a detailed explanation. The timing coincides with the planned release of a CAGE report on Syria and a major news piece that was due to be televised soon.”
“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.”
The Muslim Council of Britain called for prompt communication with the Muslim community noting “the concern and alarm” his arrest caused.
A spokesman for the umbrella group said they while they “cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, we urge the Police authorities to note the deep reservations held by many in our community by this action. It is important that the intentions of the authorities regarding Mr Begg are communicated to all of us as quickly as possible.”
Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) also voiced its shock at the arrest.
SACC has been campaigning for the repeal of the terrorism legislation under which Begg has been charged. In a statement to The Muslim News the group said the legislation “is politically charged and lends itself to being used in a discriminatory way. We do not believe that charges brought under Britain’s terrorism laws ever serve the interests of justice. People should be charged under the ordinary criminal law, or they should not be charged at all.”
A statement of support for Begg has been signed by around 60 prominent UK and US lawyers, academics and human rights group leaders, asking the police to be vigilant over his treatment, given his experiences at Guantánamo Bay, where he was held for nearly three years. He was never charged with any offence and returned to the UK in 2005.
Earlier this year, Peter Fahy of the Association of Chief Police Officers, issued a warning that any Britons travelling to Syria would be treated with suspicion. Security assessments estimate up to 500 Britons are in Syria, or have been there and returned. This number includes many engaged in aid convoys or humanitarian efforts.