“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
[Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – Letter from a Birmingham jail, 1963]
Fifty years ago, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, wrote his seminal letter from his jail in Birmingham, Alabama in which he expressed that highest respect that one could show for the law, was to be imprisoned in breach of an unjust law.
From the Birmingham of Alabama to the Birmingham of West Midlands, Moazzam Begg and three others were subjected to raids by the police and detained for suspected involvement in terrorism in Syria.
Many have quite rightly questioned the arrest of Moazzam, owing to the prominent role he has played in advocating for the rights of others and uncovering the extent of British government complicity in rendition and torture. The reality, however, is that this arrest is not about his guilt, but rather about the very system which seeks to detain him.
For too long communities in the UK have accepted that the national security paradigm legislated by government, is not only acceptable, but the moral position. Those who are true to civil liberties and human rights have advocated that such a paradigm is unconscionable and indeed betrays notions of due process for which the UK was once known.
The reality is, that too many forms of legitimate activity, whether it is political dissent, satire or simply poetry, have become subject to scrutiny under the purview of terrorism laws. The latest extension of activity that is considered to be unlawful is potentially to be involved in fundraising or fighting to assist the freedom fighters in Syria.
So it is that if there are any charges against those who have been arrested. We should not concern ourselves with the charge, but rather seek to overhaul the very system that would have allowed for an arrest in the first place.
The injustice of the way in which terrorism legislation has been expanded should force us to decry the way that it is being used.
So…just so we are clear, with all the strength of my voice and heart:
I am a witness to the gross human rights violations taking place in Syria.
I am a witness to the need of the Syrian people to resist against a brutal dictator.
I give my full support to Syrian peoples their right to self-determination.
No right minded person can accept that assisting the fall of the Assad regime can be considered terrorism.
It is at this time that we also need to condemn, by condemning those who will frantically run from their support of individuals like Moazzam when if a charge is laid. We need to condemn people who run away from supporting Moazzam.. They can be fairly described as cowards because although not unsure about Moazzam,
They are not willing to recognise the illegitimate nature of the counter terrorism regime that seeks to criminalise him.
In order for us to be true to our commitment to justice, we must not speak of Moazzam in terms of the rights and wrongs of his arrest. Rather, we must speak only of the rights and wrongs of the anti terrorism policies.
For over a decade, out of our collective fear of politically motivated violence, we have allowed successive governments, here and abroad to establish a system of injustice. A system that has undermined out ability to see witness against injustice and speak truth.
These events are a wake up call and we can assure our supporters that Cage will continue remain defiant, true to its values and ethos and continue the struggle the struggle. We will never abandon the call for the restoration of the rule of law for all irrespective of the circumstance and pressure to undermine fundamental freedoms.
As Henry David Thoreau in On Civil Disobedience said,
“If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law”
(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.)