Babar Ahmad was arrested in London on 5 August 2004 following an extradition request from the US on allegations of terrorism, by dint of the fact that that he established Azzam.com, a website supporting Chechen and Taliban fighters that shut down in 2002.
The ‘evidence’ supporting the US allegations was the same material that had been reviewed the previous year by the Met, and on which the Crown Prosecution Service declared in July 2004 some months before the US demand for an arrest was executed, that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge him with any criminal offence under UK law. Yet this UK-based ‘evidence’ was thereafter sent to the US prosecutors who inexplicably reached the opposite conclusion.
This began the 9 year detention of Babar in the UK whilst he fought extradition to the US and for a UK trial instead – resulting in Babar becoming the longest-held person on remand in British history.
Whilst imprisoned, Bell Yard assisted his family with their campaigning www.freebabarahmad.com, to broaden his support based on the fundamental principles of fair trials for all, and highlighting the absurdity of extraditing in circumstances were the defendant, alleged conduct and ‘evidence’ all resided in the UK. A number of parliamentary briefings were organised, together with regular press releases to UK media to keep them up-to-date on the injustice that Babar was facing in order to encourage the Home Office to not accede to the US’s extradition request. Making UK legal history, BBC’s Newsnight programme aired a pre-trial interview with Babar whilst still in detention at HMP Long Lartin following a lengthy battle by the BBC against the Ministry of Justice for the right to broadcast an interview with a detainee. In another first, campaigners secured over 150,000 signatories to a parliamentary petition seeking to end the continued detention on remand and calling for Babar to be put on trial in the UK. This resulted in two parliamentary debates on the subject of his case and extradition to the US more broadly.
Unfortunately, all legal challenges failed and Babar was extradited to the US on 5th October 2012. He was held in solitary confinement in a Supermax prison, awaiting trial. Babar endured these conditions for 14 months and thereafter pled guilty to one count of providing material support to ‘terrorists’. He admitted running a website that called for financial contribution to support the Taliban and the Muslims in the Chechen war.
He was sentenced to 12 and half years by the judge, and the 10 years he had already spent in prison would be credited against that sentence. Judge Hall’s sentencing remarks reflected the views that his campaigners had held for the previous decade or so: She ruled “There was never any aid given by these defendants to effectuate a plot. By plot, I mean a terrorist plot … Neither of these two defendants were interested in what is commonly known as terrorism …” She described Ahmad as a “good person” who she believed posed no threat to the public and stated she had weighed the seriousness of his crime with his good character after reading thousands of letters of support and hearing from British prison officials who described him as an exemplary inmate…. “It appears to me that he [Babar] is a generous, thoughtful person who is funny and honest. He is well liked and humane and empathetic… This is a good person who does not, and will not, act in the future to harm other people.”
Babar returned to the UK in 2015 eventually free to resume his life.