Protest attacks terror detentions

Sunday, 3 October, 2004, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK

Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News Online

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti
Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti denounced the detentions
Around 200 human rights campaigners staged a protest outside Belmarsh prison on Sunday at the detention of 11 foreign nationals.

The prisoners are being held without trial under UK anti-terrorism laws.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, who was among the protesters, described the current situation as "a scandal".

On Monday Law Lords begin a review of the legality of the detentions and whether evidence possibly obtained by torture can be used against detainees.


The prisoners are held at Belmarsh and Woodhill jails, and Broadmoor Hospital.

Anti-terror laws

The men are being detained under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, introduced after the 11 September attacks.

It allows Home Secretary David Blunkett to detain without trial foreign nationals he suspects of terrorism, but cannot deport because it would endanger their life.

Protesters outside the south London prison braved wet and windy weather to denounce the detention of the men.

Muslim men and women were joined by demonstrators of all ages and races.

Protesters waved home made banners calling for the end of the detentions.

And the angry throng joined in chants of "no detention without trial", as police officers watched from the prison gates.

Ms Chakrabarti, who gave a speech, said: "Nobody should be detained without charge or trial - this is completely contrary to the basic principles of democracy."

A young protester
Around 200 protesters took part in the event

"The home secretary has specifically targeted foreign nationals - this law is inflammatory and discriminatory."

She also suggested that, ironically, the anti-terror laws invoked by the home secretary are more likely to endanger members of the public than protect them, by fuelling anger at the British government.

Ms Chakrabarti said: "If we are hypocritical about our democratic values we give ammunition to people who say democracy does not mean anything."

And, visibly pleased at the turnout for the demonstration, Ms Chakrabarti added: "Ordinary people have come to protest because they feel it is an unjust law and feel moved to express themselves."

Many of the speakers represented civil rights groups.

Gayasuddin Siddiqui, who chairs the Muslim Parliament and also addressed the crowd.

He said: "We need to return to people being innocent until proven guilty, otherwise we are all in danger.

Dr Siddiqui compared the detention of the foreign nationals to the situation in Guantanamo Bay.

'Forgotten' prisoners

Drawing parallels between the UK and US governments, he added: "It is time Tony Blair took note of public feeling and stopped following George Bush like a puppy."

In September an Algerian known as "D" was released from Woodhill, near Milton Keynes, where he had been held since December 2001.

Mr Blunkett said the weight of evidence against him no longer justified his detention.

Of 17 foreigners originally detained under the act, "M" was freed on appeal, "G" was released to house arrest, one was detained under other powers and two have chosen to leave the UK, as allowed by the legislation.

Gareth Peirce, a solicitor who is representing a number of the detainees, also attended the protest.

She said: "These men are intended to be forgotten - they are foreign nationals who are very isolated.

" The cases should be opened up so that people know what they are meant to have done "
Umar Quraishi, protester

"We are pleased that a significant number of people have remembered these men and the important issues that are going to be argued in the House of Lords."

The wet weather failed to dampen the fervour of the protesters, many of whom grew increasingly incensed as the protest wore on.

Umar Quraishi, a 24 year-old telecommunications worker from south London, said he came to protest because he feels the imprisonment of the men without trial is "absurd".

Mr Quraishi said: "The cases should be opened up so that people know what they are meant to have done.

"As a Muslim I feel that I have a duty to help them and speak up on their behalf."

Sunday's protest follows a similar demonstration held in April.