Extradition Detainee Talha Ahsan Wins Top Poetry Award at Koestler 2012

Actress Manjinder Virk (above) reads from Ahsan’s prison poetry at the Extradite Me, I’m British event this month.


19. 09. 2012
Extradition detainee Talha Ahsan has won the Platinum Award for his poem “Grieving” at the Koestler awards 2012 – the annual nationwide prisoner arts award, which will be exhibited from September 20th at London’s Southbank. The 32 year old Asperger syndrome sufferer from Tooting won a further Bronze award for his poetry collection of the same title.

The news was publicly announced to a packed audience at the “Extradite Me, I’m British” event held this month at London’s Rich Mix venue, where actress Manjinder Virk and comedian Jeff Mirza read the detainee’s poetry.

Commenting on the development, Ahsan’s local MP Sadiq Khan said: “It is often through adversity that the flame of creativity is ignited and brilliant, if somewhat harrowing, art is produced. Talha’s award for his poetry is recognition of his talent in this art form but also highlights the ongoing struggle that he faces with his continued incarceration without trial”.

Novelist A. L. Kennedy – who has publicly supported Ahsan since the launch of his poetry anthology last year in Edinburgh – said : “That Talha has been imprisoned for years without trial in my country shames me as a UK citizen… That my government would give Talha no assistance in a time of absolute need and would, in fact, help engineer his distress is another indication of its utterly reckless, unsustainable and inhuman stance on human rights.”

Talha’s brother Hamja Ahsan, 31, an arts curator by profession,  who leads a nationwide campaign to reform the 2003 Extradition law and obtain a fair UK trial for his brother, said “Talha’s poetry touches and impresses many people in all the cities I have travelled from Cardiff to Glasgow to Birmingham, reducing people to tears. His comic poems have made whole crowds of people laugh out loud. He may be extradited to face years of pre-trial solitary confinement in the USA which all evidence shows cause irreversible mental damage. His beautiful creative mind will be gone.”

A new collection of his prison poetry is expected to be published soon.
Contact: info@freetalha.org / 07542993012. Talha’s family will be available for interview and additional images are available upon request.

Notes to editors:

1. Koestler Trust Awards are an annual nationwide award for writers in prison, that has run from 1962 – 2012. The awards receive over 7,000 entries a year. The national exhibition of the work attracts 14,000 visitors, and this year runs from 20 September – 25 November at London’s Southbank Centre.

2. Talha Ahsan has been detained over 6 years without trial, charge or prima facie evidence on the controversial 2003 US-UK Extradition treaty on allegations relating to association with a foreign jihad website from 1997-2001 covering Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan.  Ahsan has been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome like  the high-profile extradition case Gary Mckinnon, leading medico-legal reports to state he was vulnerable and at risk.

3. “Extradite Me, I’m British” was a cultural event held at London’s Rich Mix 8th September 7pm -11pm also in support of his co-defendant Babar Ahmad, Richard O Dwyer, and Gary Mckinnon. “Extradition film plus comedian and actor Jeff Mirza will be reading Talha’s comic love sonnet to Theresa May; other speakers included awarding winning novelist A.L Kennedy; David Bermingham (one of the Natwest Three), former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, journalist Victoria Brittain and comedian Ahir Shah, fresh from the Edinburgh Festival.

4. His family-run campaign had attracted the support of other poets including Children poet laureate Michel Rosen and African poet Shaija Patel. A film called “Extradition” about his case and his co-defendent Babar Ahmad is currently touring the UK. Framed around Talha’s prison poetry, it stars performance poet Avaes Mohammad and their solicitor Gareth Peirce.

5. A.L Kennedy’s article on Talha Ahsan:  “Solitary Confinement is no place for a Poet” can be found here.


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