Press Release: Talha Ahsan’s Poetry & Art Activists Feature in Secret Cinema Production of Shawshank Redemption
Free Talha Ahsan
7th December 2012
Poetry written by a Briton recently extradited to the US recently featured in a theatrical Secret Cinema production of The Shawshank Redemption. Talha Ahsan’s work was one of several pieces exhibited over a five week period from 29th October-2nd December 2012, alongside a Christmas card-making workshop about Extradition and a performance highlighting the injustice of the US system of plea-bargaining system by artist collective, Arts Against Extraditions.
Secret Cinema presented Frank Darabont’s ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ at the Cardinal Pole School, in the East end of London. The production transformed the space – formerly a Huguenot Hospital and thereafter utilised as a Catholic School – into the world of the Shawshank Prison. In the tradition of Secret Cinema productions, all details of the event remained secret until after the production. It opens to the public in January 2013.
The Christmas card workshop, based on a prisoner art workshop, was attended by in excess of 140 people a night. The ‘Extradited Snowman’, ‘Solitary Confinement Snowflake’ and ‘Legal Scroll’ Christmas Cards will be on sale from Wednesday, with most of the proceeds to be donated to a charity helping prisoners’ families.
The script for the plea-bargaining performance , soon to be published by Arts Against Extraditions, was produced in consultation with real-life lawyers and actors.
Shadow Justice Secretary and MP for Tooting, Sadiq Khan – where two of the extradited Britons, -Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, lived – said on the plea-bargaining system:
“The way criminal cases work in America means that defendants facing a trial are advised to plea-bargain. I predict that both my constituents will do the same as all the other British men extradited to the USA have done and plead guilty. It is a big risk pleading not guilty. My understanding is that the consequences of this include the threat of life in solitary confinement without parole, should they lose a trial. If those are the stakes which pleading not guilty involve, then it is no wonder that over 97% of defendants accept a plea bargain.”
Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davies MP expressed concern, in a recent parliamentary debate following the halt of Gary Mckinnon’s extradition:
“There are a number of cases where there are concerns over justice being done, with respect to both Europe and the USA—in particular, in respect of the USA, there are fears that the intimidatory use of the plea bargaining arrangements force possibly innocent people to make guilty pleas…”
Hamja Ahsan, brother of Talha Ahsan, who leads the Free Talha Ahsan campaign an art curator by profession said:
“The Free Talha Ahsan campaign has attracted the support of many artists and writers including Child Laureate Michel Rosen, musician and actor Riz Ahmed and novelist A. L. Kennedy who would read Talha poetic letters at Tate Modern and other festivals. Many are inspired by my brother’s ability to produce beautiful award-winning poetry whilst detained with trial in the harshest of prison conditions of group isolation and prolonged solitary confinement. Many artists are also inspired by the endurance and courage of the ongoing family campaign.”
Or Hamja Ahsan, Talha’s younger brother and campaign leader, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
/ Mobile: 07542993012
Notes to Editors:
1. Talha Ahsan was detained for over 6 years without trial, charge or prima facie evidence on the controversial 2003 US-UK Extradition treaty on allegations relating to association with an obsolete foreign jihad website from 1997-2002 covering Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. He was extradited to the USA to pre-trial solitary confinement on 5th October with his co-defendant Babar Ahmad. Their trial is scheduled for October 2013. Full details on the case and family campaign can be found at www.freetalha.org
3. Arts Against Extraditions is a creative campaign promoting democratic and human rights, plurality of voices, equality and peace. They promote and document artistic acts that call for an end to the unfair UK-US Extradition treaty that was amended in 2003 in the panic, spin and diplomatic pandering surrounding the war on terror. AAE are a group of artists, designers and illustrators who witnessed how British families were being torn apart and individuals lives left in limbo because of the Extradition act. Arts Against Extraditions is not aligned to any political persuasion and seek to work with campaigning, cultural and political organisations from across the spectrum who promote tolerance, justice and equality. http://artsagainstextraditions.tumblr.com/about
5. Talha Ahsan’s poetry booklet This be the Answer
was originally launched in January 2011 by novelist A. L. Kennedy and published by Radio Ramadan Edinburgh. It features a foreword by human right lawyer Aamer Anwar and Richard Haley of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities. Talha Ahsan’s poem “Grieving“ won the Platinum award & Bronze award for collection at the 2012 Koestler Awards. The poem was projected at the London Southbank centre at Royal Festival Hall until 25 November as part of the exhibition: http://www.koestlertrust.org.uk
. A new 2012 edition was launched at the City Circle on 23 November with a post-Extradition foreword by Richard Haley.