Shereen Fernandez writes about the unjust and unfair 'lingering tension' that comes with control orders
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk of a potential terrorist on the run after slipping into a burka following a visit to a mosque in West Acton, London. From the radio to news bulletins, word has got round that a 27 year old man by the name of Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed has vanished from police surveillance and it is believed that he may have links to the al-Shabab group in Somalia. He is the second person to have absconded his TPIM order this year, after reports that Ibrahim Maggag last December ripped off his electronic bracelet, raising questions that these measures are clearly not effective. Control Orders and TPIMs have been around for some time and their intended use is preventative: to catch the criminal before the crime is committed. Never charged or tried, these measures are used against suspects who are believed to pose a threat to the state, but the reasons why are never exposed- simply because they are secret. Not only are these measures not effective, they are destructive – destroying the lives of a handful of men who have been placed on them. From destroying homes to causing mental and physical breakdowns, TPIMs and the now expired control orders are designed to do one thing: to completely control lives and render people invisible.
These measures transform your life completely. Legally, they are a lawyer’s worst nightmare as they are fighting an invisible enemy due to the passing of the secret evidence bill. Unsure as to why your client is being treated like a potential terrorist, the only thing they can do is ease some of the restraints placed, almost like a doctor easing the pain of a terminally ill patient. There is no quick cure for these measures and slowly but surely, they break people down in any and every way. For the men placed on these measures, it destroys any element of social life. I spoke to one former control order detainee and he told me how he suffered the humiliation of going to the police station everyday to “sign on”, waiting in line behind petty criminals, who are probably better off because at least they know what they have been charged for.
Imagine being placed on a measure because you are deemed too dangerous or threatening to be part of public life so that even people in your community hesitate to speak to you. Going to the mosque becomes difficult because people have heard that you have been tarnished by the terrorism brush and so don’t want to acknowledge you. The experience is so overbearing that you retreat back home, which feels empty because of the restrictions placed on your order. No internet, no computer, no mobile. Home is just a physical structure with no sign of life. Your ‘guests’ have to be approved by the Home Office and even then, they are liable to prosecution if they contravene any of the conditions, which adds to the lingering tension.
Some may argue that these measures are vital for the security and safety of the state and its citizens. However it cannot be ignored that these measures are inhumane and deny basic human rights. In the case of Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, it has been reported that he is suing the government, claiming that he was tortured in Somalia by UK authorities. If his allegations are true, I cannot help but question whether he was placed on a TPIM to avoid these allegations from being revealed. It is already questionable that the Home Secretary only needs “reasonable suspicion” to place someone on these measures, but what exactly does “reasonable suspicion” mean? From my research and speaking to former detainees, I have found that as a control order/TPIM detainee, it is difficult to feel human because you don’t have a name; you are just known as a letter or two. Though your shackles may be invisible, your pain and suffering is that of a prisoner.
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