Though he faces another, different trial in September, Abu Qatada’s clearance today of charges related to a 1998 plot goes some way toward showing how unjust the harsh and abusive treatment his treatment was in the UK.
The Jordanian State Security court today cleared Palestinian cleric Omar Othman, also known as Abu Qatada, of charges of involvement in a terror plot in Jordan in 1998 – a result widely expected, as the only evidence against him was obtained by torture. Mr Othman’s entire family were in court to hear the verdict. A second verdict on another alleged plot in 2000 will be given in September.
This verdict is a vindication of UK lawyers’ long struggle against his deportation from the UK to Jordan because of the torture issue, and of the successful campaign to have Jordan change the law for this case alone on the admissibility of evidence obtained by torture.
Since 2007 as many as 12 senior British judges in various courts have recognised the torture origins of the Jordanian case against him. One described the case as “extremely thin” without the torture evidence. However successive prime ministers and home secretaries publicly put all their political weight into ignoring the torture issue. Only last year was the government forced to accept torture as central to his case if they were to achieve his deportation which Home Secretary Theresa May and the Prime Minister himself had made a key political goal.
The words of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, that ‘this is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist’, have been repeated so often that the facts have been forgotten. No one has ever suggested Mr Othman is physically dangerous himself.
Almost a year ago Mr Othman voluntarily agreed to return to Jordan after the change in the law was completed there. He left in a typically dignified manner, after a 12 year ordeal for him and his family, which had him held in various high security prisons, or briefly released on strict conditions of house arrest, although he was known never to have committed any crime in the UK.
He was jailed for longer than almost any other non-convicted person in modern British history. Mr Justice Mitting in the special appeals immigration commission, who was then responsible for granting him bail against the government's wishes, described the period he had been held as "lamentable … extraordinary … hardly, if at all, acceptable".
An obsession against Mr Othman by the UK security services in the post 9/11 period fed a campaign against him and his family left our society poisoned by the racist and islamophobic mobs of the English Defence League, which besieged his various homes, and by the prejudiced comments made about him by British political leaders including the most senior of politicians. Mrs May said last year that she had been "as frustrated as the public" about the estimated £1.7m spent and the length of time it had taken to remove him. It was of course the Home Secretary’s choice to spend the money, and it was her reckless characterization of Mr Othman that brought some of the public to behave so badly against his family over months and years.
A year’s reflection, and an acquittal has not changed the tone of UK leaders’ comments as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg showed when he told LBC radio: "It was important that we sent Abu Qatada, after lengthy delay, back to Jordan to face trial". Similarly, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, said he was surprised at the verdict. "However, it is right that the Jordanian court has followed due process," he added. "There are still matters outstanding which need to be resolved." He went on to say that, "the British government was right to remove this man from the UK considering his extremist views and potential links to terrorism."
No one who has followed this saga attentively will be either surprised by the verdict, or likely to conclude the government was right to pursue a vendetta against a refugee and his family, hold hearings in secret about him, and attempt to destroy his character by repeated defamatory remarks and unsubstantiated claims.
You can read more on Abu Qatada's case here.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)