By James Cracknell
AN ART curator who quit his job to work full-time on a human rights campaign has been nominated for an Our Heroes Award.
Hamja Ahsan, from Tooting, became a campaigner after his older brother Talha was arrested and detained without charge for more than six years in Britain.
Talha, 33, is accused of supporting terrorism through a website he ran in the UK and was sent to the US to face charges there two weeks ago.
Hamja has appeared on numerous TV and radio programmes speaking on behalf of Talha and calling for a change in the UK’s extradition agreement with the US.
Hamja, 31, said the experience of supporting his brother’s case has changed his life.
He told the South London Press: “I now campaign against the erosion of civil liberties for everyone and not just Talha.
“There are very basic human rights at stake here, such as the presumption of innocence before proven guilty and the right to be tried in the country where an alleged crime took place.
“These rights have been eroded by the extradition treaty with the US.”
Hamja said he spends large chunks of his time reading law books and previous case files in order to support his brother, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – a form of autism.
He said: “I have given up everything, including my academic and arts career, to do this. I get woken up by the BBC wanting to interview me and then I go on [news channels] Al Jazeera and CNN.
“I have had to learn about Asperger’s syndrome, about solitary confinement and extradition laws.
“Even if Talha was returned to Britain tomorrow I will carry on campaigning for the rest of my life.”
Hamja is the youngest of four children, but has taken on the majority of the campaigning and media work on behalf of Talha. His elderly parents came to Tooting from Bangladesh in 1964.
Hamja was nominated for the Shell-sponsored awards, which are run by the South London Press to recognise community champions.
He added: “I have joined arm in arm with many other campaigns and I view what I am doing as part of a wider battle for civil rights in general.”
Other activities Hamja organises as part of the Free Talha campaign have included poetry nights, rallies, vigils and talks such as one held in Brixton last Thursday called “Caged In The USA”.