Reprieve challenges British government’s failure to disclose information about abuse of Ahmed Belbacha

December 14, 2010

Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co sue British government on the instructions of Guantánamo prisoner and former British resident Ahmed Belbacha; lawsuit challenges UK refusal to reveal crucial and potentially life-saving information about his abuse.

Lawyers for former Bournemouth resident Ahmed Belbacha are today seeking to force the British government to reveal key information that could not only free him from Guantánamo Bay, but also save his life.

The court will be asked to review the British government’s failure to release information about Ahmed’s abuse to his US habeas team, who are now fighting an urgent battle to keep Ahmed from being forcibly repatriated to Algeria by the Obama Administration.

Reprieve is gravely concerned for Ahmed’s safety, after the US courts lifted an injunction preventing his forced transfer to Algeria where he faces twenty years’ imprisonment and in all likelihood torture and abuse.

In a troubling first, the Obama Administration forcibly transferred a Guantánamo prisoner to Algeria this summer. That prisoner was promptly ‘disappeared’ by the authorities for several days, and now faces mysterious charges of terrorism. Ahmed Belbacha’s fate is likely to be worse, as he is the only Algerian in Guantánamo who has been singled out for an in absentia sentence.

Reprieve has repeatedly asked the British government to help us help Ahmed, either by offering him a safe home, or by disclosing crucial information to his defence team. The UK has repeatedly declined to co-operate or to admit their part in Ahmed’s abuse and near-decade-long imprisonment.

Today’s lawsuit seeks to force the UK to accept responsibility for the desperate plight of Ahmed Belbacha, and to take basic steps to help.

Reprieve’s Legal Director and Ahmed’s attorney Cori Crider said: “After all Ahmed has suffered in Guantánamo, it is unthinkable that he be returned to a country that seeks to abuse him further. Ahmed wants nothing more than to live a quiet life and that is the least he is owed. Sending Ahmed to Algeria would be his worst nightmare and a bitter betrayal. The UK holds the key to saving Ahmed from this fate.”

Richard Stein of Leigh Day said: “Mr Belbacha faces a desperate situation with time ticking away. We have been forced to bring these proceedings on his behalf because the UK Government has been dithering and refuses to confirm whether it will comply with its obligations to assist Mr Belbacha voluntarily.”

For more information please contact Emma Draper at Reprieve’s Press Office emma.draper@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099.

Notes for Editors:

Ahmed Belbacha remains a tragic figure in Guantánamo Bay. Cleared of all charges by the Bush Administration, Ahmed has consistently chosen to stay imprisoned in Guantánamo rather than face his fate in Algeria, a country he originally fled after threats on his life by the terrorist group Group Islamique Armé (GIA).

Ahmed’s fears were confirmed in 2009 by an alarming ‘conviction’ delivered in absentia by an Algerian court. In an unfair and secret trial on Sunday 29th November 2009, the court sentenced Ahmed to 20 years in prison. The trial lacked any semblance of recognisable legal process and appears to be retaliation against Ahmed for speaking out about Algeria. Since then, despite repeated requests and diligent investigation, Reprieve’s lawyers have been unable to discover what Ahmed is supposed to have done, and no evidence has been produced to support his ‘conviction’.

Reprieve insists that the US Government should no longer seek to return Ahmed Belbacha to Algeria and has repeatedly appealed to the British government for help.

Ahmed lived for years in Bournemouth where he studied English and worked; during a Labour conference he was responsible for cleaning the hotel room of Deputy PM John Prescott, from whom he received a healthy tip and note of appreciation. He is now in his seventh year of imprisonment without charge in Guantánamo Bay.

Ahmed’s plight, together with his gentle nature, has attracted private offers of help from both sides of the Atlantic. He has been pledged a room in a flat by a Bournemouth resident, and the Massachusetts town of Amherst has offered refuge in defiance of Congress. So far, however, no government has come to Ahmed’s rescue.

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 26 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has also represented a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Leigh Day & Co are specialist human rights solicitors with one of the country’s largest human rights teams. The firm’s ethos is to ensure that the ordinary person has just as good quality legal advice as our state bodies, insurers and multi-nationals. Leigh Day & Co is based in London but its lawyers bring human rights, personal injury, clinical negligence, and employment discrimination claims in the English Courts for clients all around the world.

ReprievePO Box 52742London EC4P 4WSTel: 020 7353 4640Fax: 020 7353 4641Email: info@reprieve.org.ukWebsite: www.reprieve.org.uk

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH