Syed Talha Ahsan, a poet and translator was arrested at his home in Tooting, South London, on 19 July 2006 by officers from Scotland Yard's extradition unit, under a provisional warrant alleging offences under the Extradition Treaty 2003. He was kept without charge for nearly seven years years in British prisons before being extradited to the United States. On 16 July 2014, a US judge released him on time served.
Born in 1979, Talha had completed his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the School of Oriental and African Studies in Arabic. Amongst his peers, Talha was regarded as somewhat of a calm eccentric genius and even today allegations of him being connected to international terrorism lead those who knew him best to be perplexed.
Maajid Nawaz, said of Talha “He was always a very gentle and polite man, who never spoke in anger or frustration. On one occasion, I remember him explicitly and passionately criticising those who use Islam to justify certain criminal activities.”
Syed Talha Ahsan was arrested at his home in Tooting, South London, on 19 July 2006 by officers from Scotland Yard's extradition unit, under a provisional warrant alleging offences under the Extradition Treaty 2003.
Talha is accused in the same case as Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist who was indicted in Connecticut in October 2004. He has been held on a federal indictment from the US state of Connecticut charging him with conspiracy to support terrorists and conspiracy to kill or injure people abroad.
Talha has been detained since July 2006 in some of the harshest British prisons.
On 15 September 2006 the US requested Talha’s extradition and in March 2007 the case was sent to the Secretary of State for his decision.
Before the Secretary of State was due to make his decision, the US Embassy in London felt pressured to issue diplomatic notes, on 15 May 2007, giving reassurances that the death penalty would not be sought against him and that he would be tried in a federal court in accordance with all rights and protections that anyone else facing similar charges would receive.
Talha’s extradition was ordered on 14 June 2007 and his appeal was dismissed, in 2008, because of the precedent set in the case of Babar Ahmad.
Talha’s struggle against extradition continued to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which, on 8 July 2010, ruled that likely sentences of up to 50 years imprisonment for Babar Ahmad, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Syed Talha Ahsan and Abu Hamza could violate Convention rights; and it stated that more time was needed to consider whether the condition at the “supermax” ADX Florence prison are inhumane – each inmate detained there dwells in solitary confinement.
Talha is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. If extradited to the US. Talha was likely to face a severely repressive regime of special administrative measures (SAMs) in a 'supermax' prison resulting in greater risk of harm to the long term mental health of the inmates.
Talha Ahsan received a wide support from Human Rights defenders, MPs, artists and the general public.
His brother, Hamja Ahsan, headed the family efforts organising events, letters campaigns and featured prominently in mainstream media.
Extradition – an acclaimed documentary on Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad directed by independent filmmaker Turab Shah- toured the UK.
During his detention Talha Ahsan also won awards for his poetry. On 20 December 2012, Talha Ahsan’s poem Grieving wins a platinum award as part of the Koestler Trust’s annual awards. His collection of poems entitled Grieving wins a bronze award. Grieving was exhibited at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank.
Extradition to the US
Despite the risks linked to his health condition, a UK court ordered his extradition to the US on 5 October 2012. He was immediately taken from Long Lartin prison to RAF Mildenhall where a US plane transported him to Connecticut.
The extradition was largely perceived as a denial of justice by the British public.
Serious doubts arose when it emerged that the US plane had arrived several days before the British court’s decision.
Upon his arrival, Talha enters a not-guilty plea at a federal district court hearing in New Haven, Connecticut. He is remanded into custody in Supermax prison Northern Correctional Facility in solitary confinement.
Less than two weeks later, Theresa May blocked the extradition to the US of Gary McKinnon, a British who suffered from Asperger Syndrome like Talha Ahsan. The Home Secretary argued that prison conditions in the US would breach his human rights.
Commenting on this event, Board Member of CagePrisoners and former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Omar Deghayes said: “Human rights are for everyone, regardless of their skin colour, faith or culture. We are truly travelling down a frightening path in which certain individuals are seen as more ‘human’ than others.”
On 10 December 2014, Talha enters into a plea-bargain with US prosecutors to conspiracy and material support charges, reducing a possible 70 year sentence to maximum of 15 years.
On 18 July 2014, Talha Ahsan received a time-served sentence and is due to be repatriated to the United Kingdom. This ended an eight year ordeal for Talha and his family.
- CAGE interviews Hamja Ahsan on his brother Talha Ahsan #WelcomeHomeTalha here
- Absent Justice hosted by Moazzam Begg here
- Extradition – 26 min documentary by Turab Shah here
- A poem by Talha Ahsan here
- Caged in the US – An event with Omar Deghayes (former GIMO detainee), Robert King (who spent 29 years in solitary confinement) and Hamja Ahsan here
- Solitary confinement is no place for a poet here
- The sentencing of Babar and Talha: a welcome anomaly by Asim Qureshi here
- Cageprisoners urges MPs to block US Extraditions here
- Extradition of uncharged prisoners held collectively in Britain for over 40 years is not justice here
- It’s Rendition NOT Extradition here
- CAGE welcomed the restrained sentences handed to two Britons who were extradited to the US to face trial in 2012 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.)