Talha Ahsan is a British-born poet, translator and human rights campaigner with Asperger syndrome who was extradited to the US on 5th October 2012 after over 6 years of detention without charge, trial or prima-facie evidence.
He had never set foot on US soil prior to his extradition…
He was detained in Northern Correctional Facility – a “supermax” prison housing deathrow inmates in Connecticut - where he has been detained in indefinate solitary confinement since his extradition. He entered into a plea-bargain on 10th December 2013.
Free Talha Ahsan campaign director Hamja Ahsan was shortlisted for the LIBERTY Human Rights Award 2013 for this campaign on extradition. Read on and become part of the growing community of solidarity and justice …
Who is Talha Ahsan?
Talha Ahsan is a British citizen born in London in 1979. He was educated at Dulwich College before receiving first class honours in Arabic from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In the week of his arrest he had job interviews to train as a librarian. His mother describes him as “a serious, bookish young man… a very gentle, softly spoken and thoughtful boy.”
Talha has Asperger Syndrome (a form of autism). In a medico legal report of June 2009, a consultant psychiatrist described him as “an extremely vulnerable individual who from a psychiatric perspective would be more appropriately placed in a specialist service for adults with autistic disorders.” He is also an award-winning poet and has received acclaim from novelist A.L. Kennedy and poet Michael Rosen amongst others, winning the Platinum Koestler Award 2012 for his poetry.
Why is he in prison?
Talha Ahsan was arrested at his home on 19 July 2006 in response to a request from the USA under the Extradition Act 2003 which does not require the presentation of any prima facie evidence. Talha had never visited America. He is accused in the US of terrorism-related offences arising out of an alleged involvement over the period of 1997-2004 with the Azzam London-based publishing house and series of websites, one of which happened to be located on a server in America. He denies all charges. He has never been arrested or questioned by British police, despite a number of men being so from his local area in December 2003 for similar allegations. All of them were released without charge. One of them, Babar Ahmad, was later compensated £60,000 by the Metropolitan police after a civil case in March 2009 for the violent physical abuse during his arrest. It was evidence from this incident which formed the basis of Talha’s arrest two and a half years later. Prior to his extradition, Talha had already served the equivalent of a 12 year sentence at high security prisons without trial.
What is a ‘Supermax’ prison?
Imagine being confined in a 75.5sq feet cell with only a concrete slab and a thin mattress for a bed for 23 to 24 hours a day for every day of your life – the only window three inches wide looking out to an empty landscape…
This is the prospect Talha faces if convicted in the US – life without parole in solitary confinement. Virtually all of a prisoner’s daily activities occur within the confines of his single cell. Food is delivered through a slot in the door, and he eats his meals alone. He receives educational and religious programming – and some medical care – through a black and white television in his cell. When an inmate is moved outside his cell, he is shackled behind the back, and subject to a strip search.
His cell window looks out onto the concrete pit that serves as an outdoor recreation area. The sun is never visible. Prisoners in supermax prison rarely have contact with any other living thing, except the gloved hands of the correctional officers. Prisoners never touch soil, see plant life or view the surrounding mountains. Prisoners in Supermax prisons receive limited 15 minute social telephone calls per month. Any call that is “accepted” (even by an answering machine) is considered “completed” regardless of the duration. Visits with family members are separated by a glass screen with only a telephone to speak through. The inmate is shackled throughout the visit.
In 2006, the U.N. Committee Against Torture expressed concern about “prolonged isolation periods” and “the extremely harsh regime” in US Supermax prisons. The United Nations Special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez wishes to see prelonged solitary confinement banned. It is little wonder that the former warden of Supermax prison ADX Florence described the prison as a ‘clean version of hell.’
What do his supporters want?
In a letter to mark 1 year since Talha extradition Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: Talha Ahsan had been “sent halfway across the world, separated from his loved ones, imprisoned pre-trial and forced to navigate a completely alien legal landscape. This is punishment in itself, irrespective of the end result. Serious overhaul of our rotten extradition system is surely the very least he now deserves.”
Talha deserves freedom or a reform of the US-UK extradition treaty that would guarantee the right of fair trial in the UK. He has received a wide coalition of support. They include his local MP and shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan; Caroline Lucas MP; novelist, A L Kennedy; former head of CND, Bruce Kent; Noam Chomsky, Robert King of Angola 3, Actor and musician Riz Ahmed, Islamic Human Rights Commision, Muslim Council of Britain and the civil rights organisation Liberty.
The Government accepted the possibility for the case to be resolved by a domestic prosecution as the ECtHR highlights in their admissibility judgement of July 2010. In November 2011, his co-defendant, Babar Ahmad, initiated a parliamentary debate with over 149,000 signatures in an e-petition for a UK trial demonstrating the will of the British public for these cases.
There were many legal precedents to try these charges in the UK. One case is R v. Sheppard and Whittle (January 2010), in which the appellants were charged with possession, publication and distribution of racially inflammatory material on websites hosted in California. Lord Justice Scott Baker ruled the UK was the appropriate forum for prosecution as the substantial measure of activities constituting the crime, such as the writing and maintenance of the websites, took place in the UK.
The Home Secretary should also have give special consideration to his medical condition. In the USA 98% of defendants plead guilty under pressure from prosecutors under the US plea-bargain system that brought voices of concern by MPs from Labour and Conservative.
How does this affect me?
The Extradition Act 2003 affects all British citizens and residents, effectively destroying Haebas Corpus and the presumption of innocence. A report published by the House of Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) concluded that the “current statutory framework” of the Extradition Act 2003 “does not provide effective protection for human rights”. Further, it devalues the sovereignty of British citizenship. It was fast-tracked into UK legislation without proper scrutiny. The Under the current provisions, British judges have no an opportunity to decide which country is more suitable for prosecution and nor can they assess the quality of evidence from the requesting state.
In June 2011 the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights called for the implementation of a ‘most appropriate forum’ safeguard. This would allow a British judge to refuse extradition where the alleged offence took place wholly or largely in the UK. The committee of MPs and peers also recommended that the Government ‘urgently’ renegotiate the US-UK extradition treaty to exclude granting requests in cases where the UK prosecution authorities have already decided not to investigate the individual on the same evidence adduced by the US authorities. These calls were reinforced by a cross-party consensus after parliamentary debates in November and December 2011, as well as the Home Affairs Committee report on extradition in March 2012.
A country that has demonstrated such a flagrant disregard for human rights in recent years is not the proper forum for justice. David Blunkett, the home secretary who was responsible for the act, now expresses regret at its consequences. Any concerned British citizen or resident must continue to work against such a law.
Extradited to Solitary Confinement
Talha was extradited to the US on 5th October 2012 following both the European Court of Human Rights and British High Court rejecting his appeals. He is currently held in solitary confinement in Connecticut, CT. He entered a plea of not guilty at his first hearing on 6th October. Later, on 10th December 2013 – Talha accepted a plea-bargain with US prosecutors with the guarantee of repatriation with his family in the UK.
How can I help?
- Write a letter of support: Syed Talha Ahsan, 393183, Northern Correctional Institution, 287 Bilton Road, POB 665, Somers, CT 06071, USA. Or email us email@example.com with “WRITE2TALHA” in the Subject Heading to stay in touch. IMPORTANT: Please see Guidelines on Writing to Talha for further information.
- Support us by promoting our events and distributing information.
- Twitter Hashtag : #BringTalhaHome #MyNameisAhsan #freetalha
A donations page is online here : https://www.igiveonline.com/campaigns/talha-ahsan-prison-poetry-film-tour
This will cover fund family visits to Talha in solitary confinement as well sustain the campaign.
Alternative, contact us if you would like to make a contribution to the campaign via cheque or another method.
To order free campaign materials, show solidarity the family and for further information contact: Free Talha Ahsan Campaign PO Box 64590 London SW17 IDG firstname.lastname@example.org
(Talha Ahsan’s only brother Hamja Ahsan who directs the Free Talha Ahsan campaign is open for interview requests : having appeared in a wide-range of TV, radio and print media from BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera. Email him at : email@example.com to request an interview. Twitter : @hamjaahsan )