This is a story which will not make the front-page headlines of the British press or aired on the mainstream news channels.
Yesterday, an innocent man was freed for the second time in his life after being detained on terrorism charges without conviction. Former Guantanamo Bay detaineeMoazzam Begg was arrested on Tuesday 25 February for Syria-related terrorism offences. He was charged under Section 6 and Section 17 of the Terrorism Act, for allegedly training and funding the Syrian rebels.
Moazzam’s seven-month ordeal at HMP Belmarsh was incomparable to his three-year incarceration at Gitmo, where he experienced horrific treatment in the most inhumane prison in modern history. On this occasion, financial sanctions were imposed on him, as a result of which his bank accounts (including joint accounts) were frozen or shut down. His wife was unable to pay her utility bills that were held in their joint accounts without receiving a license from the Treasury, and it became a criminal offence to even support his family with money during this period. Moazzam’s arrest corresponded with the UK government’s crackdown on activities related to Syria. Aid workers, Islamic charities as well as prominent Muslim figures were being targeted for their support for the Syrian revolution.
Moazzam is well known to Muslims and non-Muslims across the world as a representative of justice, truth and human rights at the face of oppression, tyranny and injustice. Naturally, the mainstream media along with the ‘Knights of the War on Terror Templar States’ will portray him as a terrorist sympathiser, supporting the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
However, the reality is this – after his release from Gitmo, Moazzam chose to pursue a path which shook the thrones of the same oppressors who had him imprisoned without charge for four years. When he joined advocacy group, CAGE (formerly known as CagePrisoners) in 2005, his life as a determined human rights activist, responding to the call of those who fell victim to draconian anti-terror laws eventually caught up with him earlier this year.
As the Syrian revolution gained momentum, and the Islamist rebels were a stone’s throw away from Damascus at the start of 2013, the British government began its campaign of criminalisation. Muslim humanitarian aid workers were arrested, demonstrations were closely monitored, and in Moazzam’s case, investigating the wrongdoings of the British government became a crime in itself. The government’s anti-Syria measures included asking Muslim mothers to spy on their children, cracking down on online activities, the confiscation of passports , and revoking citizenships. The Con-Dem coalition did not hold back in its attempt to silence the genuine sentiments among British Muslims who supported the Syrian revolution, and the removal of a brutal dictator.
At an event held in Manchester in January entitled – “Is Islam Being Criminalised?” – Moazzam spoke to an audience of 600 people regarding the British government’s anti-terrorism strategy, and the harassment he faced for investigating the intelligence service’s links with tyrannical regimes in the Arab world. During his speech, he said: “I told the British secret services that I’m going to Syria to investigate them. This war against Islam and Muslims transcends boarders and continents, unlike any other war against any other group.” Coincidentally, Moazzam’s last Facebook post before his arrest was, “Sometimes knowing too much can be a curse.”
From the onset, Moazzam had been open about his travels and his objectives, which included exposing the British government’s complicity in rendition and torture. The timing of Moazzam’s arrest, given his trip to Syria was in December 2012, requires a detailed explanation – which I doubt anyone is seriously holding their breath for. Additionally, his arrest coincided with the release of CAGE’s report on Syria that was due to be given considerable media coverage. There were also concerns that the police and the security services applied ambiguous anti-terror laws to the Syrian conflict, which in turn made legitimate activism unlawful.
Taking all the above into consideration, it is clear that the government along with law enforcement agencies failed miserably at setting a precedence of fear by trying to make an “example” of Moazzam. His arrest and subsequent release has only damaged the already fragile relationship between the government, its shambolic PREVENT strategy, and the Muslim community, which it aims to silence and ultimately control.
In an article I wrote for the Huffington Post last week, I said that Moazzam Begg was the closest example British Muslims had to Martin Luther King or Malcolm X – I reiterate this comparison with no hesitation whatsoever, at a time of immense hardship, pressure and demonisation for Muslims worldwide.
British Muslim organisations across the spectrum have welcomed Moazzam’s release. No doubt he was in the prayers of many Muslims, and in the thoughts of his non-Muslim supporters who knew too well that an individual like Moazzam could never be guilty of the crimes he was unjustly arrested for… twice. While British Muslims rightfully celebrate the release of one of their respected and admired leaders, days before the Islamic festival of Eid, I’m sure Moazzam along with CAGE will insist that the struggle between justice and oppression is far from over.