“I think people realise what an important figure Moazzem is, and what important work CAGE does. Through many years of hard work, they are now taking CAGE seriously.” So says Cerie Boullivant from the UK based human rights group, following the news that charges against former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzem Begg, had been dropped. Begg has spent the past 7 months at the Belmarsh Prison in London, as he awaited trail on several charges relating to alleged terrorist activity, stemming from a trip to Syria.
The charges were dropped on Wednesday, after the Crown Prosecution Service admitted to having no reasonable prospect of securing a conviction for the charges levelled against Begg. The judge at the Central Criminal Court of England subsequently ordered his immediate release.
Advocacy group CAGE, which counts Begg as a director, has championed the idea of just treatment for suspects in the so called ‘War on Terror’. They have strongly challenged the types of practices that have been used against suspects, which would otherwise be considered illegal under normal circumstances. CAGE was formed in response to the unfair detention and treatment of suspects at the Guantanamo Bay prison, and have recently launched a local branch called CAGE Africa.
According to Boullivant, Begg’s visit to Syria was largely focused on providing humanitarian aid to refugees affected by the civil war in the region. It also included conducting research into alleged renditions taking place in the country. During his time there, attacks from the regime of Basher al-Assad become much more severe, and Begg chose to provide basic physical training to a group defending itself from the regimes assault.
“We are not talking about weapons training or anything armed, we are talking about star jumps and press ups. This has been the mainstay of the prosecutions accusations, which are that training a civilian population to defend themselves against a tyrant and oppressor, that training is considered terrorist training,” he said.
Amongst the seven charges levelled against him are that he was aiding rebels, in relation to providing a generator to the group in question. He was also accused of being in possession of documents that would be useful to the rebels operations.
But Boullivant said the documents were merely a list of names of people residing in one of the refugee camps, which had been written on an iPad. Those notes had been unknowingly uploaded to the iCloud service, becoming a selling point for the prosecution’s case. He added that none of the facts of the case had ever been disputed by Begg.
“Is it a terrorist offense to defend yourself when a dictator is dropping barrel bombs on you? It was the prosecutions position that to defend yourself from a dictator is terrorism. It was Moazzem’s prosecution that it is completely normal, and actually a necessity to defend yourself to save your own life,” he said.
Boullivant suggested the charges were an attempt by U.K authorities to tarnish the name and reputation of Begg, and the CAGE organisation as a whole. He further claimed that throughout the prosecution process had been targeted by authorities. This included attempts to shut its bank accounts, and targeting its board members an
“As much as I can say at the moment, we feel that the intelligence services and MI5 have likely led this. It was probably a very ill thought-out conceivement from the intelligence agencies,” he suggested.
Begg himself has yet to issue an official response to the dropping of the charges, with most correspondence coming from CAGE. Boullivant was however confident that he would come out strongly in the next few days to address the issue. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)