After the Nottingham witch-hunt the authorities are trying to spare their blushes by deporting Hicham Yezza. This is a very old phenomenon in policing, if you put a lot of resources into an operation and come up with nothing careers are in jeopardy, but if you can fiddle some kind of ‘result’ in this case the spurious arrests of Yezza and attempt to fast track deport him then something can be salvaged and asses get covered.
Hicham Yezza, a popular, respected and valued former PhD student and current employee of the University of Nottingham faces deportation to Algeria on Sunday 1st June. This follows his unjust arrest under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Wednesday 14th May alongside Rizwaan Sabir and their release without charge six days later.
It has subsequently become clear that these arrests, which the police had claimed related to so-called “radical materials” involved an Al Qaeda manual downloaded by Sabir as part of his research into political Islam and emailed to Yezza for printing because Sabir couldn’t afford to get it printed himself.
There has been a vocal response from lecturers and students. A petition is being circulated, letters have been sent by academics across the world and a demo is being planned for Wednesday. 28th May. This has clearly been deeply embarrassing to a government currently advocating an expansion of anti-terror powers.
On his release Hicham was re-arrested under immigration legislation and, due to confusion over his visa documentation, charged with offences relating to his immigration status. He sought legal advice and representation over these matters whilst in custody. On Friday 23rd May, he was suddenly served with a deportation notice and moved to an immigration detention centre. The deportation is being urgently appealed.
Hicham has been resident in the U.K. for 13 years, during which time he has studied for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Nottingham. He is an active member of debating societies, a prominent member of an arts and theatre group, and has written for, and edited, Ceasefire, the Nottingham Student Peace Movement magazine for the last five years.
He is well known and popular on campus amongst the university community and has established himself as a voracious reader and an authority on literature and music. An application for British citizenship was underway, and he had been planning to make his yearly trip to Wales for the Hay Festival when he was suddenly arrested.
The authorities are clearly trying to circumvent the criminal justice system and force Hicham out of the country. Normally they would have to wait for criminal proceedings to finish, but here they have managed to convince the prosecution to drop the charges in an attempt to remove him a quick, covert manner. The desire for justice is clearly not the driving force behind this, as Hicham was happy to stand trial and prove his innocence.
Hicham had a large social network and many of his friends are mobilising to prevent his release. Matthew Butcher, 20, a student at the University of Nottingham and member of the 2008-9 Students Union Executive, said, “This is an abhorrent abuse of due process, pursued by a government currently seeking to expand anti-terror powers. Following the debacle of the initial ‘terror’ arrests they now want to brush the whole affair under the carpet by deporting Hicham.”
Supporters have been able to talk with Hicham and he said, “The Home Office operates with a Gestapo mentality. They have no respect for human dignity and human life. They treat foreign nationals as disposable goods – the recklessness and the cavalier approach they have belongs to a totalitarian state. I thank everyone for their support – it’s been extremely heartening and humbling. I’m grateful to everyone who has come to my aid and stood with me in solidarity, from students to Members of Parliament. I think this really reflects the spirit of the generous, inclusive Britain we know – and not the faceless, brutal, draconian tactics of the Home Office.”
There is also the risk that because of the circumstances surrounding the attempted deportation the Algerian authorities could torture Yezza-
Algerian law does not provide sufficient safeguards to protect detainees from torture and other ill-treatment. Moreover, the safeguards set in law are, in practice, disregarded when persons are arrested and detained on suspicion of links with terrorism. Such suspects are routinely held by the DRS incommunicado and in secret places of detention.
The most frequent reports of torture, as received by Amnesty International, include beatings, electric shocks, and the chiffon method, which consists in tying down a detainee and forcing him to swallow large quantities of dirty water, urine or chemicals through a cloth placed in themouth. Detainees have also reported being stripped of their clothes and humiliated, beaten on the soles of their feet (a method known as falaka), and suspended by the arms from the ceiling for prolonged periods during interrogation. In some cases, detainees allege that they were threatened that their female family members would be arrested and raped; in others, male detainees are alleged to have been sexually abused although few details are available due to the cultural sensitivity surrounding the issue of sexual violence against men in Algeria.
On 19 February 2008, at least 30 detainees at El Harrach prison in Algiers,were reported to have been beaten severely by prison guards after they and other inmates refused to return from the prison yard to the ward of the prison in which they were held in protest at the transformation of their prayer zone into accommodation for more detainees. According to the information obtained by Amnesty International, they were taken individually or in groups of two or three to a hall where they were stripped naked, kicked, punched, beaten with metal bars, insulted and threatened with sexual abuse. One inmate sustained a broken leg, another had his jaw fractured, and a third sustained an injury to his nose. The detainees were then reportedly placed in solitary confinement as punishment, were denied visits for three days and medical care. No investigation is known to have been conducted into these alleged assaults despite complaints made by lawyers for the prisoners, who were able to visit them three days later.
So first line of attack contact your MP
More details and other info as it comes. This story has had scant mention in national media, what the authorities are looking to do is spirit him out of the country to seal his lips. They will ruin his career, his life and put him in jeopardy of torture all because he…helped a friend save money by printing out a long document, incidentally such a dangerous document it is openly available on a US government website. Link here. Or fas.org/irp/world/para/manualpart1.html or cryptome.org/alq-terr-man.htm. As Lenin points out you can buy it in book form from Amazon!
Updates from Dave in comments-
There has been a massive swathe of media interest in the situation existing at Nottingham University in the wake of last week’s wrongful arrest of two innocent members of the University community.
If you haven’t seen the reports, take a look:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/nottinghamshire/7415685.stm (Front page of ‘Nottinghamshire’ section)
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/nottinghamshire/2008/05/399428.html – Press release for demonstration
If you want to hear how our colleague Rizwaan feels about what has happened, take a look at this news report:
Many academics from around the world are writing to the university to express their concerns about what has happened here.
The University have issued an updated, unapologetic statement on the Portal; which successfully picks at a few errors in various media coverages; simultaneously side-stepping the massive outrage and specific concerns that the incident has created. Don’t take my word for it, see and judge for yourself: my.nottingham.ac.uk
“The University is an open and free arena for debate and dissent.”
– So dont forget to let the registrar know what you think about all this: firstname.lastname@example.org I’m sure next Wednesday’s demonstration will be recieved well by the university, with no arrests, undercover security or intimidating Police surveillance. hmm….
There will be a reading of the research document (’radical material’ that caused the university to initiate this incident, followed by a silent demonstration. Weds 28th May 2pm Hallward. If you’re outraged at this ridiculous and disturbing incident, come and join in; stand up for academic freedom, civil liberties, human rights; and in solidarity with our friends who have been served a great injustice.
Please make sure you sign the petition. It will be circulating on campus early next week.
Please also forward the above media links onto all your friends, and circulate on any relevant mailing lists that you may have access to.
and more detail from Lenin’s Tomb (I haven’t bothered reproducing all the links here):
Arrested for Excessive Diligence
A number of people have brought this shocking story to my attention. An MA student at the University of Nottingham named Rizwaan Sabir and a 30 year old academic, Hisham Yezza, were arrested by armed police under the Terrorism Act 2000, and held for six days without charge. The student downloaded a supposed ‘Al Qaeda’ training manual from a US government website as part of his dissertation on ‘Islamic extremism’. I will just mention that there is some doubt as to the document’s provenance, which is proliferating in different variations all over the internet. Rizwaan forwarded it to a friend in the Department of Engineering for printing because he couldn’t afford the printing costs (1,500 pages at what I guess is 5 pence a page is seventy give quid). Someone, somehow, saw this material on Yezza’s computer and, thanks to the culture of prying and snitching encouraged by the government and right-wing media, assumed the worst and told the University authorities. The authorities, instead of checking with the student or staff in question, or even making a roundabout preliminary investigation, called the police. The pair’s homes were raided and their families harrassed during the six days of detention. The pair were released on 20 May, but Hisham Yezza was subsequently re-arrested on an unrelated immigration issue and is now at Colnbrook detention centre awaiting deportation to Algeria. The Guardian writes:
Of his detention, Sabir said: “I was absolutely broken. I didn’t sleep. I’d close my eyes then hear the keys clanking and I would be up again. As I realised the severity I thought I’d end up in Belmarsh with the nutcases. It was psychological torture.
“On Tuesday they read me a statement confirming it was an illegal document which shouldn’t be used for research purposes. To this day no one has ever clarified that point. They released me. I was shaking violently, I fell against the wall, then on the floor and I just cried.”
All of this because the student downloaded a publicly available document in the context of properly directed research. The University authorities had every reason to be aware of the nature of that research and could easily have checked all the relevant facts before ratting on one of their students. So, should this material be banned for the purposes of study? Why don’t you have a look at it and tell me? If the US Department of Justice website removes the document for any reason, you can always see it here and here. In fact, the Pavilion Press have published a version which you can purchase via Amazon. If this is an illegal document, as the police appear to have told this student, the cops haven’t done much to block access to it. It’s probably one of the most easily obtainable documents in the world. I frankly suspect that they were [making shit up] relying on an excessively liberal interpretation of some law that would usually not be applied to retrospectively justify the arrest. And how dangerous is it? Not enough to stop the US government making it available for public consumption.
Here is a press release by Nottingham University Students and Staff:
21 May 2008
Nottingham University Students and Staff Express Serious Concerns about Recent Use of the Terrorism Act on Campus and Demand Academic Freedom
Following six days in police custody under terrorism legislation, two well-known and popular members of the University of Nottingham – a student and a member of staff – were released without charge on Tuesday, 20 May. A
growing number of students and staff wish to express grave concerns about the operation on a number of grounds.
1. Academic freedom
The arrests were in relation to alleged ‘radical material’, which the student was apparently in possession of for research purposes. Lecturers in the student’s department, as well as academics throughout the university, are deeply concerned about the ramifications of this arrest for academia, especially political research. An academic familiar with the arrested student explained that his research topic was about contemporary political issues that are highly relevant to current foreign policy. The criminalisation of this kind of research is an extremely worrying sign for academic freedom, suggesting sharp limits to what may be researched at university.
2. Racism and Islamophobia
One of the officers involved in interviewing academic staff openly stated that: “This would never have happened if the student had been white.” It seems that the over-zealous nature of the operation, causing great injury and distress to the students, their family, and friends, was spurred on by the ethnicity and religious background of the students involved. Police behaviour during the operation, including the apparent targeting of ethnic minorities for questioning, also suggested institutional racism.
3. Use of Terrorism Act to target political activists
During questioning, the police regularly attempted to collate information about student activism and peaceful campaigning. They asked numerous questions about the student peace magazine ‘Ceasefire’, and other peaceful student activities. The overt police presence on campus, combined with increased and intimidating police presence at recent peaceful demonstrations, has created a climate of fear amongst some students. Many saw the operation as a message from the police that they are likely to arrest those who have been engaged in peaceful political activities. There is widespread concern in the community that the police are criminalising peaceful activists using terrorism legislation, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005.
4. Behaviour of the university
Many of the university’s statements during this time have concerned and angered students and academics. The university put out a great deal of rhetoric during this period emphasising its support for the police, refusing to acknowledge either the potential innocence of the people in question, or the distress caused to them, their families, and friends. University authorities also spoke of stopping groups or individuals who “unsettle the harmony of the campus.” This appeared to be a direct reference to recent peaceful student activism and protest, suggesting that the university is willing to clamp down on political protest using the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. One lecturer from the School of Politics suggests that the university called the police onto campus with the ultimate aim of creating a “depoliticised” body of students and academics. Throughout this period, the university has continually ignored the fear caused by police presence and investigation into legitimate political research and activities. It has also ignored the concern of staff and students about the criminalisation of research, the racist and Islamophobic nature of the police action, and the worrying indication that the university provided intelligence on its own members, possibly racially profiling its staff and students.
Academics and students from across the University of Nottingham, and
members of the public from the wider community, are calling for:
a) The guaranteed right to academic freedom
b) An end to the criminalisation of political research
c) An end to police and university racism and Islamophobia and the full
assertion of civil rights and liberties on campus
They demand that the University of Nottingham publicly:
a) Acknowledges the disproportionate nature of the police response
b) Acknowledges the unreserved innocence of the student and staff member in question
c) Apologises for the great distress caused to them, their families, and their friends
d) Guarantees academic and political freedom on campus
e) Declares its commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of expression on campus
To their credit, the staff and students of the University are preparing a public reading of the research material in question.. We’re going to find out just how ‘illegal’ this document really is. If you can’t be at the protest, you may as well download the document. I’m sure, readers, that you can do so without succumbing to the temptation to cause a conflagration.