Monday, July 22, 2013

My country's shameful and disgraceful treatment of Syed Talha Ahsan

For seven long years Syed Talha Ahsan has had his freedom taken from him in one of the most diabolical miscarriages of justice ever. For more than six years he was held in custody in UK prisons without there ever having been a charge against him. As with Babar Ahmad, who has been imprisoned for even longer, such cases bring shame upon my country, and therefore upon me. This is not the way British justice used to be done. Over a month ago I raised a Freedom of Information request on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seeking information connected with the extradition of Syed Talha Ahsan. By law they should have responded by 9 July 2013 but have not done, so I have asked for an internal review.

There are so many unanswered questions in this case. The most alarming is the fact that Talha Ahsan's case should have been heard in a US court in October this year, and if there was a clear-cut case against him there was no reason why it should not since there has been a decade in which to prepare a case, yet it has been put off until March 2014. All this time Talha Ahsan spends 23 hours a day, every day, in solitary confinement in a Supermax prison. My heart grieves for him and his family. Here is my request to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The questions are straightforward.

Extradition of Talha Ahsan

John Goss made this Freedom of Information request to Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Waiting for an internal review by Foreign and Commonwealth Office of their handling of this request.

From: John Goss

11 June 2013

Dear Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

This is a freedom of information request concerning the extradition
of Syed Talha Ahsan, a UK citizen, to the USA

Syed Talha Ahsan lost an appeal in the European Court of Human
Rights and was very quickly, the same day in fact, flown to the
United States of America.

1) Was any contact made with United States representatives of any
description to arrange the deportation of Syed Talha Ahsan before
the appeal verdict of the European Court of Human Rights had been

2) If the answer to question 1) is yes, which department of the FCO
and which personnel of that department had contact with which
personnel of which US department?

3) Can I have copies of any correspondence between the UK and USA
concerning the extradition of Syed Talha Ahsan please?

4) Was the FCO aware that two of the European judges, Lech Garlicki
and Nicolas Bratza, who sat in judgement on Syed Talha Ahsan, had
been at a 'closed-door' conference with US Supreme Court judges
Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor
in a conference called: 'Judicial Process and the Protection of
Rights: the U.S. Supreme Court and the European Court of Human

5) Does the FCO have any documents relating to the revelation in
question 4) and can I have copies please?

6) Was the FCO aware that also at the conference mentioned in
question 4) were "Derek Walton, who was representing the UK in
Ahsan’s European Court case, and the vastly influential Harold Koh,
who was serving as Obama’s appointed Legal Advisor to the State
Department." (New Statesman 21 February 2013).

7) Does the FCO have any documents relating to the revelation in
question 6) and can I have copies please?

8) Presumably the FCO would have had to be absolutely certain that
the case against Syed Talha Ahsan was a cast-iron copper-bottomed
guilty case to send a UK citizen to a country which has a
'concentration camp' at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where only 13 people
(out of 779) have ever been charged with a crime, and where 9 men
have died while in captivity. Would you not agree that given these
appalling figures the FCO would have to be certain that Syed Talha
Ahsan was guilty before sending him to the United States?

9) Considering our special relationship with the United States of
America has the FCO seen all the evidence held by the US in the
case of Syed Talha Ahsan?

10) Can I have copies of any correspondence regarding evidence of
the guilt of Syed Talha Ahsan held by the FCO please?

11) Is from the evidence that the FCO has seen there even the
slightest chance that Syed Talha Ahsan might be innocent?

12) If the answer is yes, on what grounds was Syed Talha Ahsan
extradited considering the uneven extradition treaty we have with
the United States?

13) Syed Talha Ahsan, had before being extradited been held in UK
prisons for six years without charge. Was the FCO notified of this?

14) If yes, can I have copies of the notification(s) please?

15) Did the foreign office seek assurances in this clear-cut and
convincingly-guilty case that Syed Talha Ahsan would be quickly
brought to trial?

16) Can I have a copy of any document relating to an expeditious
trial or any other documents in which the FCO has attempted to
protect the human rights of Syed Talha Ahsan in this case please?

17) US legal prosecution teams in a clear-cut and convincingly
guilty case have deferred the trial-date from October 2013 to March
2014 increasing the suffering of Syed Talha Ahsan. Did they notify
the FCO of this?

18) Can I have a copy of any such notification please?

19) Why did the Foreign and Commonwealth Office extradite Syed
Talha Ahsan to be held in a maximum security prison 23 hours a day
in a case in which the prosecution has not been able to gather
enough evidence in over a decade to bring Syed Talha Ahsan swiftly
to justice when his prison record in the UK shows that an ordinary
prison would have been adequate and better for Syed Talha Ahsan’s
health and welfare?

20) Was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aware that Talha Ahsan,
a prize-winning poet, suffers from Asberger Syndrome?

21) Have any special provisions been made to cater for his illness?

22) Can I see any correspondence relating to this pleas?

23) Was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aware that Gary
McKinnon, another UK citizen, was spared extradition because he
suffers from Asperger Syndrome?

24) Does the FCO operate a policy of racism towards Muslims?

25) Can you let me have any figures that show how many people
extradited at US requests, including those rendered abroad during
the Iraq War, over the last thirteen years, were Muslims, and how
many were not?

26) Did the UK try to get Syed Talha Ahsan into a more humane
prison instead of prisons which have been described as torture
chambers where more than 90% plea bargain (even confessing to
crimes they did not commit to avoid further torture)?

27) Can I see what correspondence took place regarding the type of
penal institution Syed Talha Ahsan was to be held in?

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

John Goss


  1. I have had a reply from my FOI request about Correspondence between the Home Office and the National Autistic Society concerning Talha Ahsan and it's hit a brick wall over the Data Protection Act. I can't see how questions 1, 4, and 5 violates the Data Protection Act because the NAS is an organisation rather than a person.

  2. Riaz, thank you for getting in touch. I've looked at the deplorable reply to your request from the Home Office. My guess is that they have no interest in Talha's welfare whatsoever. My suggestion would be to send the same questions to the NAS. They do not have any allegiance to our government. The NAS response is likely to say there has been no contact from the HO regarding Syed Talha Ahsan.

    Everybody who knows anything about Talha's case knows that neither the Home Office nor the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has any concern about wasting the life of a young man with Asberger Syndrome. All they see is another pawn in their fabricated 'War on Terror' and a way to serve their masters across the Atlantic.

    Was it you I spoke to at the vigil for Talha?

  3. I consider the answer to be unsatisfactory. If Q2 is taken out then the Data Protection Act doesn't apply. All I want is a straightforward yes no answer for Q1, and a no also answers Q4 and Q5. I have asked the NAS but they seem to be ambiguous as to whether there has been any communication from the government, and they no longer reply to any queries I have about Talha Ahsan.

    Just under 90% of the funding the NAS receives comes from the government and they have been labelled as a fake charity that really operates as a government department and toes the government line. Therefore it is plausible that the government could have told the NAS not to involve themselves in the Talha Ahsan campaign or else have their funding cut.

    Yes, it was me you spoke to at the vigil.

  4. Riaz

    I have just sent the following to the NAS support:

    "Dear Supporter Care at NAS

    I am extremely concerned about Syed Talha Ahsan who is currently held in solitary confinement in a US Supermax prison despite being an Asberger sufferer. That means he is held in confinement 23 (sometimes 24) hour a day, every day. It has been called torture, which, in my opinion, it is.

    He was extradited to the United States in a package deal approved by Theresa May together with four other men. Riaz Sobrany has informed me that he has written to you to find out if the Home Office made any intercessions on behalf of Syed Talha Ahsan regarding his condition but he has been unable, I understand, to elicit such information from the NAS.

    My questions are these:

    Did the Home Office contact the NAS regarding the medical and psychological needs of Syed Talha Ahsan?

    Has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office contacted the NAS regarding the welfare of Syed Talha Ahsan?

    Does the NAS think a Super Maximum prison and solitary confinement is appropriate for an Asberger sufferer?

    My understanding is that the NAS is there to support people with autistic illnesses, of which Asberger Syndrome is one. In the light of that can you please tell me if the NAS has given Syed Talha Ahsan appropriate support?

    Yours sincerely

    John Goss"

    I followed it up with a telephone call and spoke to (Kalina) I think. She said it would have to go to management so I we can only wait. It does not ask for any information about the nature of any contact, just if there has been any. Nothing further can be done until/unless we get a response.

    1. Received this very welcome response from NAS which is clearly under financial constraint, as with other charities>

      Dear Mr Goss
      Thank you for your email of 6 November regarding the case of Syed Talha Ahsan and apologies for the delay in responding to your enquiry.
      Our understanding from publicly available documents is that Mr Sobrany has submitted Freedom of Information requests to the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which are public sector organisations and covered by the Freedom of Information Act.
      The Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the National Autistic Society (NAS). However, we would like to take this opportunity to address some of your concerns.
      To the best of our knowledge, we have not been approached by either the Home Office or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in respect of Mr Ahsan.
      Everyone with Asperger syndrome is different, so it is difficult to generalise. The NAS does not have a formal position on Supermax prisons. However, we know that evidence submitted in Gary Mckinnon's legal case stated that in general a Supermax Prison may be particularly difficult for a person with Asperger syndrome because:
      - They may experience isolation and be misunderstood because of their problems with social interaction and communication
      - The formation and preservation of relationships is very important for a person with Asperger syndrome. The lack of a familiar environment and lack of contact with familiar persons who understand them and their "oddities" such as family members, could mean that an individual is unable to interact with others
      - People with Asperger syndrome are very vulnerable and are prone to bullying
      This was not direct evidence from the NAS, but may be of interest to you.
      The NAS campaigns to ensure that those with disabilities are protected from undue harm in the UK criminal justice system.
      As a result of the Autism Act 2009, which we campaigned long and hard for, the Government developed a strategy for improving services for adults with autism. As this programme of work is being taken forward the Government are looking at how to improve the treatment of people with autism in the criminal justice system and we are lobbying hard to try to ensure that the commitments they made are being acted upon.
      We also continue to press for better access to diagnosis and adequate services and support for people with Asperger syndrome. In turn this support is likely to mean that adults with autism are less isolated, better understand social situations and more able to avoid exploitation by others.
      Whilst we appreciate that these are longer term measures and are of no immediate help to Mr Ahsan’s current situation, we are outlining them by way of demonstrating that the difficulties that he has experienced are things that we are aware of and that we are trying to play our part in addressing for the future.
      As for the Talha Ahsan case itself, we have unable to be directly involved. Since the recession and the Government’s austerity programme, the charity has been operating in financially straitened times which has further limited our ability to take on all the work that has been asked of us. Our legal campaigning resource has always been very limited and we have only ever been able to get involved in a small number of cases, but in recent years this has become smaller still.
      We were approached to support the case of Talha Ahsan and were unfortunately unable to do so directly. However, as set out above, we do continue to argue for the needs of people with autism to be taken into account and for appropriate adjustments to be made in criminal proceedings.
      Kind Regards
      National Autistic Society

  5. Same old stock answer. I have a suspicion that senior figures in the NAS know something about the Talha Ahsan case that is not in the public domain, which his family and lawyers may also be unaware of. What I find very strange is that Talha Ahsan seems to be a persona non grata in the NAS and other people have reported similar findings. Local branch officials across the country like to silence and suppress any discussion of him whenever ordinary members mention his name. I can't work out whether it is their own personal decision or whether they are following orders from the national senior officials.