Britain to Deport 10, Citing Security Fears
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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Britain arrested 10 foreign nationals in a series of raids at dawn today. The government says the foreigners threatened national security, and it's planning to deport them. It's part of a new policy to deal with suspected terrorists and extremists, but there's a catch. Britain is legally bound to guarantee that the deportees will not be tortured when they're returned to the countries they came from. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from London.
ANTHONY KUHN reporting:
Home Secretary Charles Clarke, the top official in charge of security, said in a statement that immigration officials had acted on his orders and detained 10 foreigners. Minister Hazel Blears, in charge of counterterrorism, said the government was confident it could protect the rights of people it plans to deport.
Ms. HAZEL BLEARS (Minister in Charge of Counterterrorism): We've got to get the balance right here. These are people who are a threat to our national security. The Home secretary has decided that their presence is not conducive to the public good. We want to deport them. We want the assurances they won't be ill-treated. We think we can do all of that and we can protect this country.
KUHN: Among the detainees is Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada. The US and other countries claim he had contacts with al-Qaeda and that videotapes of his teachings were found among the belongings of the September 11th attackers. Abu Qatada's fortunes have ebbed and flowed with Britain's changing policies. He entered the UK in 1993 as an asylum seeker. In 2001, he was arrested under anti-terrorism laws and held for three years without charge. Britain's high court ruled in December that detention without trial was unconstitutional, so he was then put under a form of house arrest. Ayman al-Sasadi(ph), editor of the Jordanian daily newspaper Al-Ghad, says Abu Qatada could face a very high-profile trial if he's repatriated to Jordan.
Mr. AYMAN AL-SASADI (Editor, Al-Ghad): Abu Qatada, as you know, was sentenced in absentia in Jordan in 1997, and he was convicted of charges associated with terrorism. He is to spend 15 years in hard labor in prison. However, the law says whoever is tried in absentia is entitled to a new trial once he arrives in the country.
KUHN: Yesterday Jordan promised in a written agreement that it would not execute or torture Jordanians deported from Britain. Britain is reportedly discussing similar agreements with Lebanon and Algeria. But some British and Jordanian lawyers and human rights groups doubt such assurances are worth much. Neil Durkin is a spokesman for Amnesty International.
Mr. NEIL DURKIN (Spokesperson, Amnesty International): You simply can't accept written assurances that the host country's not going to torture people if, indeed, that country has a record of torturing people, which, I'm afraid to say, in the case of Jordan, Lebanon and Algeria, is all true.
KUHN: Last week Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated that Britain was going to start deporting the extremists it had once tolerated. But UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Novak warned that signing agreements with other countries would not exempt Britain from its international legal obligations.
Mr. MANFRED NOVAK (UN Special Rapporteur on Torture): Diplomatic issuances or any other kind of memorandum of understanding with a country where there are substantial risks that the persons who are sent there will be subjected to torture will not help.
KUHN: Another radical Muslim cleric, Omar Bakri Muhammad, was detained in Lebanon today. Bakri left the UK on vacation after speculation that he could be prosecuted for remarks he made praising the recent bombings in London. Lebanese authorities gave no explanation for his detention.
Also in London today, a judge ordered British national Haroon Rashid Azwat to remain in detention until an extradition hearing next month. Azwat may face questions about possible ties to the July 7th bombers in London. The US charges he plotted to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, London.
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