Civil rights activists campaigning against New Labour’s latest round of “anti-terrorism” legislation joined forces with the families of those who have died in police custody last weekend at a meeting in Tooting, south London.
Ian Macdonald QC, a barrister who recently resigned from the Special Immigration Appeal Court in protest at the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, attacked what he called the “culture of impunity” in the police and government.
“This culture of impunity extends from deaths in custody to a wider stage,” he said. “It’s exactly what we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, where all the Geneva Conventions have effectively been torn up.”
Home secretary Charles Clarke is currently trying to rush a new set of anti-terror laws though parliament that will lead to people being kept under indefinite house arrest on the mere say-so of a politician.
The meeting, organised by Stop Political Terror, also saw extracts from a video reconstruction of the arrest of Babar Ahmad in December 2003. Babar, who is currently being held in Woodhill prison, received 50 injuries while in police custody. He was arrested again last year and next week faces an extradition hearing to the US on trumped-up terrorism charges.
Under a new extradition act that came into force this year, people can be extradited to the US on terrorism charges simply on the request of US authorities. They are not allowed to challenge or examine the US’s evidence in such cases.
Several campaigners from the United Friends and Family Campaign, which represents the families of people killed in police custody, also spoke out at the meeting.
They drew parallels between the experience of the African-Caribbean community and the treatment currently being meted out to Asians under the pretext of the “war on terror”.
Brenda Weinberg, sister of Brian Douglas who died in 1995 after a blow to the head from a long handled police baton, told the meeting of her ten year struggle for justice for her brother.
Many speakers stressed the need for black, Asian and white campaigners against police injustice to unite their struggles.
The meeting also heard a statement from Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four. “I have watched with increasing horror reports of arrests and accusations about the Muslim community in this country which are identical to what happened to Irish men and women,” he said.
“I am astonished that no lessons have been learned. I don’t want to see a young Muslim man coming out of prison in 15 years time after his wrongful conviction is finally quashed.”
Gerry and three others were arrested in 1974 and wrongfully convicted for an IRA pub bombing. The Guildford Four were eventually released 15 years later. The government finally apologised to them earlier this month.
Protest in support of Babar Ahmad on Wednesday, 2 March, 10am, outside Bow Street magistrates court, central London. For more information on the case and protest go to www.freebabarahmad.com