The increasing disdain for human rights is graphically demonstrated by the case of Abu Qatada. The government is determined to extradite him to Jordan, even though there is a strong chance that he will not receive a fair trial and may even be tortured.
Qatada has been in prison in Britain for almost 10 years on and off, yet he has not been charged with a single offence, or been allowed to see any of the evidence against him. This seems truly bizarre when he has supposedly radicalised thousands of people. It also goes against the basic human right to receive a fair trial and know what you are accused of. Then again, as Frankie Boyle aptly put it, Tony Blair is responsible for radicalising far more Muslims than Qatada, and he is yet to be prosecuted.
The whole affair has now descended into cheap party politics, with Theresa May farcically claiming that Qatada was to be imminently deported, despite knowing full well that this could only happen with the consent of the European Court of Justice. Labour has performed no better. Rather than seeking to make a clean break with the Blair years, where human rights played second fiddle to being “tough on terror”, Yvette Cooper has demanded that Qatada be deported as well. Even the Liberal Democrats, who normally seek to defend civil liberties, have been supportive of deportation.
It seems insane that human rights can in any way be regarded as a bad thing, but we seem to have reached that point in many sections of society, with the tabloid press continually running stories of strange court decisions supposedly caused by having to abide by the Human Rights Act. This realisation that the law applies just as much to “hate preachers” such as Abu Qatada as anyone else in society has proved difficult to stomach for many people. But if we were to apply the same standards of human rights that he would, we would show ourselves to be little better than extremists such as himself.
The attempt to deport Abu Qatada follows on from the recent decision that Abu Hamza and five other terrorist suspects can be deported to the US, even though they face the prospect of spending life in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison. Similarly, the government is pushing ahead with plans to extradite Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer, who are both accused of non-serious computer offences, but could still face long jail terms in the US.
In O’Dwyer’s case, it is debatable whether the offence he is accused of, setting up a file-sharing website, is even a crime in this country. His website was not even hosted in the US, making the extradition seem even more bizarre. This represents an affront not only to human rights, but also to British sovereignty, which is hugely negated by our incredibly one sided extradition treaty with the US.
The recent attacks on human rights legislation by the government and the courts represent a worrying development.
If Qatada is actually guilty of any crime he should be put on trial in Britain. If not, he must be released. To do otherwise is to risk embarking on an irreversible breakdown of our fundamental human rights.