Government risks hypocrisy by using courts to oppose rights for Yunus Rahmatullah

May 25, 2011

Clive Stafford Smith, Director of legal action charity Reprieve, is today writing to the Government to ask them to drop their legal opposition to providing basic rights to a man captured by UK forces and held without trial for seven years. David Cameron and Barack Obama jointly stressed on Tuesday the importance of fundamental rights, and the risk that when these are not respected, people could be drawn towards violent extremism. Meanwhile, William Hague is reportedly using the US visit to raise the issue of the last British resident held in Guantanamo Bay. However, in the same week the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence are fighting in the British courts against Reprieve’s efforts to secure habeas corpus – the most basic of legal rights – for Yunus Rahmatullah, who was captured by UK forces and rendered to Bagram Prison, Afghanistan where he has now been held for seven years without charge or trial. He has also been cleared for release by a Bagram military process for over a year, meaning that even US officials now accept Mr Rahmatullah poses no security threat to anyone. Reprieve is calling on the Government to drop their opposition, or to take the opportunity of President Obama’s visit to request the return of Mr Rahmatullah from US to UK custody – something which Britain is able to do under a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the US – rather than continuing to use taxpayers’ money employing lawyers to oppose legal freedoms which have been in place in Britain for centuries. Clive Stafford Smith said:

“If the Government continues to preach about the importance of fundamental rights in the media while behind the scenes opposing the most basic rights in the courts, it risks looking deeply hypocritical. ““David Cameron must tell the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence to drop their opposition to the release of Yunus Rahmatullah immediately. Alternatively, he should take advantage of the golden opportunity offered by President Obama’s visit to request his return from US to British control. “The right to a hearing is one of Britain’s oldest and most-cherished freedoms. To oppose it, and to do so using the money of British taxpayers, is truly indefensible.”

ENDS Notes to editors 1. For further information please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0)20 7427 1082 2. The letter to William Hague and Liam Fox is available on request and on Reprieve’s website. 3. In a joint article in the Times on Tuesday 24 May, David Cameron and Barack Obama said: “[People] become attracted to violent extremism in the first place [when they] feel that their rights are not respected […] we will stand with those who want to bring light into dark, support those who seek freedom in place of repression, aid those laying the building blocks of democracy. We do so because democracy and respect for universal rights is […] a key part of the antidote to the instability and extremism that threatens our security.” 4. According to the Independent, “Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to use the visit to raise the case of Shaker Aamer – the last UK resident at Guantanamo Bay.” 5. The Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence are currently opposing Reprieve’s attempts to obtain a writ of habeas corpus for Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani national detained in Iraq in 2004 by UK forces and handed over to the US, who subsequently ‘rendered’ him to Bagram Prison in Afghanistan where he has been held without trial since. Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the US, the UK retains control over Mr Rahmatullah and is able to request his transfer back into British custody at any time, but has so far refused to do so. The FCO and MoD are expected to present evidence against Reprieve’s application this Friday (27 May 2011).