Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 7 News List

UK terror suspect tells of despair

NO WAY OUT A Palestinian man held for two years without trial or even knowing the charges filed against him has been transferred to a secure psychiatric facility


A man detained in Britain without charge or trial for two years on the basis of secret evidence he can neither know about nor challenge has told of his despair at his treatment under British anti-terrorist legislation.

Exactly two years after he was arrested at his family home in the early hours and taken to Belmarsh high-security prison, London, Mahmoud Abu Rideh is the first of 14 detainees held on suspicion of terrorism to speak out publicly, through a letter sent to The Guardian newspaper.

In it, he tells of his horror at his arrest, his humiliation in prison and the deterioration of his mental health. He has now been moved to the high-security Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, west of London.

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett says the detainees are all suspected international terrorists with links to al-Qaeda or related groups and that the British anti-terrorist legislation under which they are held, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US, is essential to safeguard the public.

Human-rights groups, however, have condemned detentions based on secret evidence without a criminal trial. On Thursday, the privy counsellors review committee, a cross-party group of members of the British parliament set up by Blunkett which spent 18 months reviewing the act, called for it to be scrapped.

Blunkett alleges Abu Rideh has been involved with associates of Osama bin Laden and was a fundraiser for terrorist purposes, allegations which he denies. Abu Rideh, a Palestinian, says in his letter to The Guardian that he hates terrorism.

"I tell you that terrorism produces terrorism -- the terrorism of the state and the terrorism of the terrorist groups or individuals is not in any religion, Christianity, Islam, Judaism. I hate terrorism from countries and groups. I want peace to spread all over the world, especially in Palestine. I am in exile. I want to go back home and live in peace,'' he wrote.

He says he was arrested without warning or explanation at his home in Surrey, south of London, on Dec. 17, 2001, two months after the World Trade Center attacks.

"The British security services arrested me at 5:30 in the morning. They broke the door while I am sleeping and scared my children -- I have five children between the ages of three years and nine years," he wrote.

He was taken straight to Belmarsh prison in southeast London, with no access to a lawyer.

"At seven o'clock in the morning they told me that you are going to stay all your life in Belmarsh. There is a unit inside it, it is like a prison in the prison. They put me alone in a small room where you face bad treatment and racism and humiliation and biting and swearing," he wrote.

"They prevented us from going to Friday prayers and every 24 hours there is only one hour walk in front of the cells and half an hour walking inside a cage. You do not see sun. You can not tell whether it is night or day. Every thing is dark,'' he wrote.

Abu Rideh says his experiences since his arrest are an indictment of Britain.

"Is this the civilization of London? Is this Europe civilization in the 21st century? I stayed in Belmarsh for 40 days without being able to call my family," he wrote.

It was a month before he was allowed to call a lawyer and six months before he saw his wife and children.

Seventeen men have been detained under British emergency measures passed since Sept. 11. The introduction of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act meant that Britain had to suspend its obligations under the European human rights convention, which guarantees the right to liberty. The act covers only foreign nationals and allows the UK home secretary to detain them in high-security prisons indefinitely. The detainees have the right to leave the UK at any time. Two have done so and are fighting an appeal from abroad. One has been removed from the UK under other legislation.

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