Out of control orders

Observations on deportations

Mustapha Taleb, currently an inmate of Long Lartin prison, came to the UK in the 1990s as an asylum-seeker from Algeria. A death sentence hangs over his head if ever he returns home. In 2003, he was arrested and subsequently cleared at trial in connection with the case that became known as the "ricin plot". After the London bombings of 7 July 2005, Taleb was picked up and served with a deportation notice, accused of being a threat to national security. He was then placed under control-order-style conditions until August 2006, when he was returned to prison after losing his appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). Taleb has remained there ever since, and has never been allowed to see the evidence against him.

Now, however, he may take some solace from two Appeal Court decisions on 9 April which ruled that the Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada and two Libyans, identified only as DD and AS, cannot be deported because if so, they could face torture in their countries of origin.

Taleb is one of a number of Algerian refugees living in the UK whom the government has been seeking to return home on national security grounds. Throughout the SIAC's secret hearings, not even the men's lawyers have been allowed to see the evidence against them.

Last year, two of Taleb's fellow countrymen, Benaissa Taleb and Rida Dendani, agreed to return voluntarily, declaring along with others: "We are choosing the alternative of a quick death in Algeria to a slow death here."

The two men believed that they would not be detained for more than a few hours on arrival and that, as the British diplomat who organised their deportations had promised, there was no risk that they would be held by Algeria's infamous DRS secret police.

"In fact they were both interrogated for 12 days, during which they were threatened and subjected to serious physical ill-treatment," says Gareth Peirce, the lawyer for Mustapha Taleb and the other two Algerians. "They were then charged, tried and some months later convicted, on the basis of the 'confessions' forced from them during this time. Dendani was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment, Taleb to three."

According to Peirce, Britain has "secretly been willing to disregard the most basic principles of refugee protection". She says that confidential information regarding Benaissa Taleb's asylum claim was passed to the Algerian government. This may also have happened in the cases of other "terror" detainees.

The true magnitude of these actions is yet to register with the wider public. It amounts to driving a coach and horses through international refugee conventions. "Asylum rests on the central premise of confidentiality," says Peirce. "A clear promise to that effect is given by the Home Office to all those who claim asylum here. After all, the contents of the application, or the very fact of it having been made, might create danger for the applicant if he returned to his country of origin."

Successive pieces of anti-terror legislation - which have taken away civil liberties on the pretext of providing national security - have created the situation whereby such injustice can take place. This should be in the minds of MPs when they vote at the end of May on the latest Counter-Terrorism Bill. It seeks, among other things, to allow police to detain suspects for up to 42 days without charge.

If MPs need a further example of where their lax scrutiny has resulted in injustice, they need only look to the case of Ceri Bullivant, a Muslim from Essex who was put on trial before Christmas for breaking the terms of a control order. As Peirce explains, Bullivant was cleared after it emerged in court that the basis for his control order was a tip-off from "a friend of Ceri's mother who, after drinking heavily, had phoned Scotland Yard, which failed ever to contact the caller to ask for further explanation".

Shortly after the London bombings the then prime minister, Tony Blair, said that the rules of the game had changed. What the Algerian cases and that of Ceri Bullivant prove is that the rule changes are simply perpetuating injustice.

By Paul Donovan

Paul Donovan writes weekly columns for the Irish Post and Catholic weekly the Universe. He also contributes to the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, Tribune and the Morning Star.

This article first appeared in Food crisis

2008-04-21