Radical Muslim fears torture after court rules on deportation
A LANDMARK court ruling could pave the way for the government to return terror suspects to countries with records of torture if their regimes pledge not to mistreat them.
Abu Qatada, 46, a radical Muslim preacher, faces deportation to Jordan after the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) yesterday dismissed his appeal against being sent back to his native country.
The ruling was a crucial test of the government's controversial policy of deporting suspects to countries such as Algeria and Jordan, and paves the way for suspects to be returned to other countries with poor human rights records.
While the government has said it will deport only to countries with which it has signed a memorandum of understanding that they will not be mistreated, campaigners claim the "paper promises" are not enough.
Under international torture bans enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, suspects cannot even be transferred to countries where they face a substantial risk of torture.
Qatada - whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman - was once described as Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe" - although he has publicly denied this.
His lawyers warned during hearings last May that he would be tortured if sent back to Jordan. He also faced the prospect of trial by military court using evidence extracted under torture.
But the judgment yesterday concluded: "There is no real risk of persecution of the appellant were he now to be returned with the safeguards and in the circumstances which now apply to him."
The judgment said it was in the Jordanians' interests to observe the memorandum of understanding in a "transparent and conscientious" way.
However, the court accepted that senior members of the Jordanian military police had probably "sanctioned or turned a blind eye" to torture in the past.
It added that Qatada's views had hardened in recent years and he had given advice to many terrorist groups and individuals.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, welcomed the ruling, saying: "It is our firm belief that these agreements strike the right balance between allowing us to deport individuals who threaten the security of this country and safeguarding the rights of these individuals on their return."
But Gareth Peirce, Mr Qatada's solicitor, said her client would seek leave to appeal.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, the civil rights group, said: "Dodgy little 'assurances' from regimes that practise torture convince few outside government."
Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK's campaigns director, said Amnesty had submitted material to SIAC documenting the routine use of torture in Jordan including beatings on the soles of the feat while a victim is handcuffed and suspended from a ceiling for hours.
• BETHLEHEM-BORN Abu Qatada is a radical preacher whose influence on terrorists worldwide was said to be incalculable.
His alleged links are believed to extend to extremist groups in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan and as far as Indonesia and Australia.
He came to Britain in September 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirates passport, claiming asylum for himself, his wife and three children.
Within months of the 11 September attacks, Qatada became one of Britain's most wanted men after going on the run, believing that new anti-terrorism laws were aimed at him.
Qatada has always denied claims that he is al-Qaeda's European ambassador and the mujahideen's head in Britain.
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