CAGEPRISONERS: Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
FARAJ HASSAN: My name is Faraj Hassan Al-Saad alias Abu Shaima, born in North Africa-Libya in 1980. I am married with one daughter, called Shaima, who is now 6 years old.
CP: What bought you to the UK from Italy?
FH: In fact, Italy was not a place for me to reside in. I did live in Italy for a few months, it was my first destination to enter Europe, as many asylum seekers do. Then I came to the UK; as I was advised by my brother who has been granted asylum to remain indefinitely in the UK, to come to the UK. Italy was a scary place to live in for the Libyan opposition abroad, as Libya used to be colonized by Italy, so the relations between the two governments is very strong till this day. Therefore I never claimed asylum there nor did I tell anyone I was a Libyan; as I feared being deported back to the dictatorship of Libya.
CP: Could you describe the nature of your arrest in May 2002?
FH: Nearly a month after I came to England, I was coming back home from the immigration department in south London, I felt that some one was following me everywhere. I stopped my journey to pray dhuhr in Al-Muntada Al-Islamic mosque in Parsons Green area. After I finished my prayer, I found the same person who was sitting beside me on the train from south London, then standing in the train station, so as soon as I boarded the train he followed me where ever I went. So when I left the train in north London near my brother’s home, I saw him coming on the other side of the main road, I called to him, but he ran away. I told my brother about it; but none of us understood who this person was and why he was following me.
As for me I carried on with my life without thinking about it again. Then very suddenly and without any expectation; after my brother and I came back from Fajr prayer in our local mosque; we were woken up because of the doorbell. My brother went to see who was ringing the bell at 6:30am; he opened the door as he saw the police outside. They came straight to the guest room where I was sleeping; they asked me about my name and introduced themselves to me. They were from Scotland Yard’s Special Unit and were accompanied by some immigration officers, there was an Arabic translator with them also. I asked him what do they want and why they came here. He said: “they are from an anti-terrorism unit and they want to question you”. The officer told me: you are living in the UK as an illegal immigrant; so I gave him the ID card I have received from the Home Office after claming asylum, which showed them my temporary residence in the UK. Although he looked at all my documents he said I had to go to the police station for questioning. He gave me a choice of whether I wanted to go freely with them or they would handcuff me. I said I would go freely as I have committed no crime to allow them to put handcuffs on an innocent man. I was in the police station till 4:00 am the next day.
I was informed that my brother was also in the police station, because they found the Italian passport I used to come to the UK, which was the only way for me to reach here-as all asylum seekers do when they get in the country. They also found another British passport I wanted to use for bringing my wife from Pakistan, so that we can be reunited again. I straight away told my solicitor that these two passports were mine and my brother had nothing to do with them nor had he seen them as they were in my personal bag in the guest room of his house. Soon after my brother was released and I was granted bail by the police and released from custody. But the immigration authorities did not want to release me and told me that I will be transferred to the detention centre in the next two days. I was told I would remain there until they looked into my asylum case, so I stayed in the police station for five days. I was then transferred to Leicester prison, instead, which is 115 miles from London. There was a reason behind this far destination transfer, which was to make the visit difficult for my brother, one of the worse prisons in the UK and the regime was so racist in there.
CP: What were the charges against you?
FH: I was never charged with anything the whole time I was in Leicester, but while I was there I was visited by three officers from Scotland Yard Anti-Terrorism special unit. The officers showed me an article from an Italian newspaper, they asked me whether I know the building with the article or not. I said, no. They said this is the church you tried to blow up in Italy. I simply told them that if they had had anything on me they should charge me, and I will prove my innocence in a court of law, as I believed these allegations against me were all false. They came once again and asked me to open some codes for them- electronic and some Arabic handwriting- but I never understood about these things nor do I know why they are asking someone like me. They asked me about some names and showed me some photographs of people I never knew in my life. So the answer I gave them was always the same “I don’t know’’ and this was the truth. The police officers offered me to work for them. They stated if I agreed to give names and address of anyone I know in this country or abroad, I would be released, given residence in the UK, and granted a visa to have wife and daughter to join me in the UK. As I only know my brother who lives here and I was concerned about my friends, the innocent Muslims whom I know, I told them I don’t know anyone. I told the officers that next time they should contact my solicitor before they came to see me again, then I walked out of the visit room.
After two months in Leicester, I was bought back to London regarding the two passports they found with me the day I was arrested. I was charged for possessing them both. I was given the wrong advice by my previous dishonest lawyer; to plead guilty for them both. In fact I should not; as one of them I used to escape for my life to a place where I can claim asylum and protect my life; which I did. I was sentenced to two months imprisonment, which means I have to serve only one month for that. From court I was taken to Wormwood Scrubs to serve that time.
CP: Where were you held initially?
FH: I was held in Leicester prison for two months, Wormwood Scrubs for three and a half months, Belmarsh ten months, Brixton two and a half years then Belmarsh for another three and a half months and then I was transfered to Long Lartin high security prison where I have been remanded since April 2006.
CP: Could you describe the regime there?
FH: The regime in prison always embodies a group of uneducated staff who couldn’t find any job in the outside world. They only train them for three moths how to open and close the doors, or take someone to segregation, or strip search an inmate. Many of these staff has been caught on prison gates smuggling drugs and mobile phones into prison. They always talk in haughtiness and disrespect. All male and female staff use bad language. They don’t care about anyone inside and they only use the rules if only they can say- “You can’t have this, or you shouldn’t do this’’ etc. Prison officers hate all Muslims in prison especially if you are a devoted Muslim. It is very hard for Muslims to get a job, attend education classes, or gym sessions. Prison officers only want to see you behind doors nothing else.
CP: You said at this point “I felt I was being unfairly treated because of my religion’’ - what makes you say this?
FH: I only realised at the time that I am one of the thousands of Muslims that have been kidnapped from their houses and amongst their families, wives and children- without any reason, just because of some false information or suspicion where they ended up in prison for months and years without any legal appearance in court. Muslims are treated nowadays like the “Bani Israel at the time of the Pharaoh.” So if this is not a police state, then how can a police state be?
CP: You were transferred to Belmarsh. What was the reason for your transfer?
FH: The reason I was transferred to Belmarsh because I applied to come out on bail on the 1st November 2002, so because my bail was refused I was straight away transferred there, even though I was not classified as a Category a prisoner at the time. It was in a way trying to discipline me, so that if I applied for bail again I would face worse consequences. The fact that the Home Office are the ones who control the prisons, deal with your case, put you on the category they want to, release reports on the media, their policy always to make you look like the most dangerous man in the whole world. So if they want to put you in Belmarsh, in a high security prison would mean to the judge who wanted to grant you bail. I believe the Home Office always use this policy with anyone who fights his case by using the law, when they find themselves that they might lose the case.
CP: You describe Belmarsh as a place where “human rights are violated in unbearable ways’’. Could you tell us about some of your experience in Belmarsh?
FH: In fact Belmarsh is a prison built specifically in the past two decades for the IRA, a very high security prison. There is also another prison inside it with, with its own wall and regime; where most prisoners in there are Muslims. In Belmarsh prisoners are not allowed out of their cells for 22 to 23 hours a day. They are only allowed out for one hour in the exercise yard and one hour allowed for association. However if the weather is bad i.e. if is raining which is very common we don’t get it and sometimes reduced to 15-20 minutes. Normally prisoners fight for the phone, because they only have three phone boxes in each wing and each wing includes nearly 80 prisoners, so most of them want to use the phone. The showers were very few in comparison to the population of the wing; I personally have a shower in my cell just to save the time in doing something else. Many prisoners suffer from terrible depression being locked up for so long, for months and years without any human contact and interaction. The Muslim prisoners in particular suffered daily abuse and discrimination from the guards, most of the CAT A prisoners in there are Muslims and I remember that one of the brothers from Algeria was on A Cat although he has to serve less then a year for a false document and A Category is only for high profile cases.
Belmarsh is a racist establishment. It is institutionally racist. The staff and the Governor have no regards for the religious and cultural rights of Muslims. Back in Feb or Mar 2006, there was a lot of media coverage, saying that Muslims in Belmarsh are instituting gangs, forcing other prisoners to become Muslims and have a meeting once week –they meant Jummuh prayers, and all these information was given by the media by members of staff or by the Governor himself. It is obviously that many people revert to the light of Islam because of the respect, unity, good manners and love between the Muslims prisoners in Belmarsh they also wanted to join the Caravan of Islam. In fact the EU has done an independent report on Belmarsh condemning its treatment of prisoners.
Some of the terrible things I have experienced in Belmarsh that once I had Islamic books in Arabic sent in from my brother. Once of the officers opened the package said “You can’t have them, because the translator must check them first.’’ I asked him to write the books in the property card, but he said “Don’t worry, we will do that when you have them in your cell.’’ I believed him. After a while I asked for the books to be returned to me as it had been some while. However I was told I have no books sent in at all! I met that officer after a while and asked him about the books, but his answer was “I don’t know, I never took these books.’’ I believe he threw them in the rubbish bin.
The other terrible experience that I remember the most happened in February 2006. I was standing in the queue waiting to use the phone. I had a disagreement with one of the inmates who doesn’t respect the other person's turn. I told him he could not go before me whatsoever so he started using abusive language. Unfortunately the situation ended up in a fight between us. I can recall that his nose was bleeding and the blood was everywhere on the floor. The staff themselves saw the whole incident and that I was the one who was attacked first, and I was just defending myself. Instead they took me alone to the segregation unit and kept me there for few days. While I was in the segregation unit they did not allow me to have my prayer mat or Quran, but Alhamdu’lillah I was reading Quran from the heart. I asked them to bring my clock and prayer timetable but they never did. There were a few books in the segregation block, so I asked the officers to bring me some books but they never did. They did not even let me neither call my solicitor nor give me paper or envelope to write to my solicitors. After being held in the segregation until for a few days I was taken before the Prison adjudicator for adjudication. I was told the case was dismissed as a result of the lack of evidence. I could not believe someone of my size 12 stone frame could be having attacked someone who weighed nearly 18 stones. The Adjudicator was not interested that I was the one who was attacked and instead I got punished for defending myself, even though the staff witnessed everything.
CP: During this time, you were charged under the Terrorism Act. Could you tell us more about those charges and your response to them?
FH: The first time I realised that Italy might extradite me was when I appeared in Court on 1st November 2002 when I applied for bail. I was never charged with any offence in the UK and should have been granted bail; instead they were making up the case and detaining me under immigration power where I was kept in remand for another 10 months in Belmarsh. In the meantime I applied for bail nearly four times but it kept getting refused. In the final attempt the Judge gave the Prosecution one more week for some more evidence to be served against me in accordance with their claim or he will release me on bail.
So before the end of the week and after 15 month detention in prison I was charged on 24th June 2003 under the Terrorism Act facing extradition to Milan, Italy. Now according to UK law the Police cannot detain anyone in custody for more then 28 days. But for someone like me a foreigner can be detained in custody under the cover of immigration power for more then 450 days to allow the police to do their own investigations and build false cases against innocent people. They caged me and my co-defendants for having associated together with other unidentified person for the purpose of performing acts of violence e.g. attacks. Also in countries other then Italy for the purposes of terrorism and with complicity together and with other unidentified persons forged and counterfeited a large number of documents sc as passports, driving licence and residents permits and the last charge was for having in complicity tighter with others unidentified persons in order to benefit for themselves or for others received blanks forms for documents or genuine documents issued for other persons for the purpose of forging them.
In the case I was described by the Italians as one of the major leaders of terrorist association with a foremost role conduct most likely in all Europe and certainly Italy, Holland and the UK, where I have relations with large number or persons belonging to the terrorist group or any sympathisers with the group ideology. I was finally found not guilty of all terrorism charges in my absence by the Court of Milan. It was a part of a drama these Governments act in the name of innocent Muslims to assure their public that they are doing something to protect them from alleged terrorism attacks and so-called terrorists. I challenge them to come face to face in a Court of law in front of juries. Although I won this case now but I challenge any Government to bring those charges again if they are really sure of what they allegedly say about me.
CP: You were also facing extradition to Italy. What were your concerns about being sent there?
FH: Actually Italy was the county I was facing extradition to, where I was charged with terrorism so it is the same case I was fighting. The reason I was fighting this extradition because I was concerned about being deported back to Libya or handed to the Americans from there. In fact I suggested to my solicitor that I was willing to face trial in Italy as I was innocent on the condition that the Italian authorities give me an assurance signed from the Court which is approved by the Home Secretary in the UK and in the event I am released in Italy, I can return to the UK to resume my application for asylum, but the Home Office did not accept this proposal. I wanted to fight this case in Italy because I was confident there was no evidence against me and I was innocent of all the charges alleged against me, but as I said Libya itself is a state of Italy and I had no doubt that once extradited to Italy I will deported back to Tripoli where I faced torture and even the death penalty.
CP: Following this you were sent to Brixton prison. You say that “Allah knows how much I suffered in that prison.’’ Could you tell us more about the abuse you suffered there?
FH: Well! Brixton is a very famous area in London, so the prison in Brixton means that you get all the criminals residing in this prison. I was transferred to Brixton prison on 28th August 2003, where I spent nearly two and half years. In Brixton prison at least 60% of the inmates are drug addicts. So I always used to refuse sharing a cell with anyone and always requested a single cell, but the staff deliberately refused to give me a single cell. As a result of me sticking to my principles I would end up in segregation for days as I refused to go back to the wing until they found me a single cell. Once I was speaking to the principle wing officer about something. While we were talking, a senior officer came towards us as said “Don’t talk to him; he is a terrorist!’’ I kept silent and waked away from him without saying anything. So the following day in the morning I was doing some training in the exercise yard, the principle officer said to me “Are you preparing yourself for your Holy War?’’ I again walked away from him without any response. I put in a formal complaint but I never received a reply to my complaint. I came to this principal officer and asked him to move me to another wing, so he moved me straight away. However once I was in my cell suddenly few officers came in and said “We are going to search your cell.’’ I said “It is yours anyway.’’ After they finished searching the cell they said “We’ve found a screwdriver in your cell.’’ I had never had a screwdriver in my possession nor did I know where it came from. When I was out on adjudication they found me guilty and said I was trying to stab one of the staff! They gave me 21 days loss of TV, canteen & association. I knew this was all planned by the staff.
I wish to highlight another example of the how prison officers abuse their position to set up prisoners so they get punished. On this occasion I was coming back from the gym, when I arrived on the wing I saw all the Muslim inmates, nearly 25 men, protesting against the principal officer who so racist. The inmates were refusing to have their lunch or go back to their cells unless the Governor No.1 came to speak to them. As a Muslim I too joined this peaceful demonstration to demand our rights. The brothers all wanted me to speak on their behalf, so I explained everything to the staff, but the staff started to mobilize from other wings. They started attacking the brothers and four of the officers came and held me on one side. The officers knew that all the Muslim inmates respect me and would not tolerate seeing me on the floor, so they were telling them to stay where they were. While all this was happening I was speaking to the brothers in Arabic and telling them not to use any act of violence, even though the staff were so violent they broke one of the brother’s arm.
I was taken to my cell over lunch then after 2pm they came to me and said that the Governor wanted to see me. When I went to see the Governor I saw at least 20 officers sitting with him. I said “We have to speak privately.’’ So the Governor ordered the officers to take me down to segregation. I was in the segregation cell for few days. Then I was told that that I could get charged by the police from outside for inciting others to declare “Jihad’’ in prison! I just knew they were trying to set me up with this charge as it carries a very high custodial sentence. In the end Allah protected me as the officers were found to be lying in their statements because they said in their statements they allegedly heard me inciting the and calling the other Muslim prisoner to fight, but they forgot I was speaking in Arabic which none of the officers could understand! Therefore the case was dropped Alhamdu'lillah. These are only a few of the many stories I have to tell, but I hope to deliver them another time Insha’allah.
CP: After your third appeal against your extradition, the request was withdrawn, what were the circumstances around this? How did you feel when you heard the news?
FH: In fact while I was appealing for the third time in the House of Lords, my co-defendant was awaiting a verdict for their trial. They were all found not guilty of all terrorism charges but only found guilty of lesser charges of “forging documents’’ They were convicted and sentenced to 3 ½ & 4 ½ years imprisonment. I was also given the same verdict in my absence at the time, which the British government kept a secret in order to use that against me by saying the case was withdrawn because of the deadline in the Italians legal system to continue proceedings, which recently was submitted to the SIAC by the Home Office. Of course I was happy because I knew the case was based on artificial evidence planted against me by the police, so being found not guilty is 100% by the Will of Allah.
CP: It was around this time that the media portrayed you as the “European envoy to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’’. How do you respond to this allegation?
FH: As far as I remember I explained to the Cageprisoners’ readers in my first letter that I was in Belmarsh the time the war began in Iraq. I heard about Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi only in the news when he emerged in the public domain after nearly two and half years after the war in Iraq had started, so how can I be his envoy? Otherwise I am in America or already being charged in this country the envoy of Al-Zarqawi would be a very big thing for them I believe.
CP: When the Home Office decided upon your deportation to Italy, what was the reason for this? What did you feel about this?
FH: When the extradition from Italy was dropped I was as happy as it was the reason for me being in prison so I wanted to be out of prison. If I was a British citizen I should have been released straight away but because of my immigration matter I applied for bail and it was supposedly to be on the 1st November 2005, however a day before my hearing I found an article about me in the Times newspaper they mentioned all those things about Al-Zarqawi which was all based on fabrication to stop me having bail. When I rang my solicitor I was told that the Home Office decided to send me to Italy by force after 8 days under what is called the “Dublin Convention.’’ Even though I was fighting my extradition case in the House of Lords they just wanted to break the law and get rid of me by nay means as they know themselves they were losing the case in the House of Lords.
Two days later they were talking about my case in the House of Parliament, Tony Blair and the Conservatives. I just felt to get ready for deportation I even asked my brother who lives in London to buy me some property to take with me to Libya, and asked to get a visit so I can see him for the last time in my life as I knew Italy will send me back to Libya where I will get the death penalty. I rang my wife in Pakistan and mother in Libya I asked them to pray for me and forgive me if I have done anything wrong. Even I gave my wife the option if she wanted me to set her free but she didn’t and was crying so much, it was a very emotional time for everybody but then Alhamdu’lillah the deportation was suspended for another week. It was completely stopped and I was put under the new drama SIAC.
CP: You were in HMP Long Lartin. Could you tell us about the regime there?
FH: The Home Office were planning to put the detainees in Long Lartin prison since 2002 when the brothers were detained under the Terrorism Laws in 2002, but the brothers refused to move to this prison they wanted only their freedom. After these new memorandums were signed with Algeria, Jordan and Libya they re-rearrested them back and out them in Long Lartin. The wing we were in was segregated from all other wings as they believed we would brainwash the other Muslims in prison. Everyone one of us had been classified as Category A to make it hard for us to make phone calls and visits. As for me to get my brothers named cleared for visiting took me one year.
CP: In October 2006 Britain signed a Memorandum of Understanding with your home country Libya, to allow the return of refugees with a guarantee from the Government that they will not be harmed. What is your opinion of these agreements?
FH: For this country to sign this memorandum of understanding with Libya that I would not be harmed means Libya practice torture against its people otherwise why would a Memorandum be needed? By seeking this so called “Memorandum of Understanding’’ the UK acknowledges that Libya does carry out torture. You can go and search yourself in the Human Rights.org website and read about the prisoners in Libya. More than 12,000 Muslim brothers were shot in the Prison of Abu-Salem in Tripoli by the same person who signed this memorandum! And they wanted me to be in the same prison where the blood of those innocent Muslims is still not dry yet. Britain simply forgot who Gaddaffi is; the Dictator who ordered to kill more than 258 people by bombing the Pan-Am aeroplane in Lockerbie in Scotland and his bad reputation is well known to everyone in this country.
The funny thing is, the European who signed this Memorandum was himself expelled from Britain to Libya in the past decade as he was thought to be a threat to the national security for the UK and he is currently wanted by the French authorities for bombing the French plane in the desert of Niger, which killed 140 passengers on board at the time.
What I am trying to say is this so called “Memorandum’’ was being dealt by a very big mafia in Libya, by people who themselves should be in prison for the crimes they have committed against humanity, By signing this so called “Memorandum of Understanding’’ the UK government was willing sign our life away to these people who would not even ensure the rights of animals let alone human beings. It makes a mockery of the so-called civilised democracy and human rights the UK professes to uphold and uses as an excuse to invade countries like Iraq and Afghanistan claiming to be bring democracy and human rights to these countries and removing dictatorship, when the UK itself deals with these very dictators as and when it suits it. The irony is how the UK government is courting Libya now and in particular Gaddafi when only less then twenty years ago Libya was denounced by the West as the country which harboured terrorists and Gaddafi was reviled as a enemy of the West in the same way Osama Bin Laden is today. Most recently Tony Blair himself visited Libya and announced Gaddafi as the West’s ally against terrorism and resumed diplomatic relations with Libya! This is the same way the USA and UK courted and allied itself with Iraq in the 1980’s when Saddam Hussein was murdering innocent people and any political opponents using weapons supplied by the UK and the UK government now uses those same crimes against Saddam Hussein to invade Iraq claiming it had a moral obligation to the world and the Iraqi people to remove a dictator! The double standards and the blatant hypocrisy of the of the UK government towards countries which torture is clear for everyone to see and the UK government wonders why Muslims feel angry?
CP: What were your concerns about being deported to Libya?
FH: Libya is a country where I was born and brought up. I love my country and hope to be around my mother and family there. Britain is not my place if I was not compelled but because Libya is ruled by dictatorial and tyrannical regime I would receive the death penalty. I would be treated very badly as soon as I reach there as I am an Islamic opponent to the Gaddafi regime and also because of the charges against me in Italy. Libya also accused me of being affiliated with the Libyan Islamic Group who want overthrow the regime of Gaddafi. I deny this accusation. However once an accusation is made, you can never clear your name and just live in fear of when Gaddafi’s secret police will arrest you and throw you into torture prisons. The charge of supporting any group which wants to overthrow the government in Libya is very serious and the punishment is the death penalty.
CP: How many brothers are held with you in HMP Long Lartin?
FH: We were all 11 brothers, 5 Libyans, 2 Jordanians, and 4 Algerians. All these brothers are being detained without any charges and facing deportation to their countries.
CP: How do you do you feel about the response of the Muslim community to your case and to other brothers like yourself?
FH: There are a few Muslim families that supported us and our families outside, may Allah reward them for their support and help. But I think many Muslims outside do not care about us, they never come forward even in the peaceful demonstration. It is a shame when you see non-Muslims come forward and supporting us instead of the ones who call themselves “brother’’ and “sister’’ but do not know the meaning of words. As for so-called MCB I would like to hear their voice for once. They only participated and appealed for the releases of hostages in Iraq but they do not regard us as hostages by the new crusader Tony Blair. They never sent us a letter of visited us or asked Blair about us in the House of Parliament. The thing that astonished me was that one day in Belmarsh, I refused to be strip searched as it was against my religion. Officers showed me a fatwa signed by the Muslim Council of Britain saying that it is permissible for the staff to strip search us. So this is how we get supported in prison by the Muslim Council of Britain.
CP: What support have you received from the Muslim and non-Muslim community in Britain? And could you tell us of the pros and cons of the letter writing campaigns for Muslim Prisoners?
FH: I received a few letters from people, Muslims and non-Muslims it was very nice for our souls and we really thank them for that. I do also believe that many other letters were sent but the Prison security confiscated them as they normally do, to stop us from being in contact with the outside world. So if anyone wrote to us and did not get a response they he or she must forgive us as we always responded to people they also must understand that one of the main reasons letters get confiscated is because some of the writers do not write their names and addresses at the back of the envelope so they must always write them.
CP: Finally, do you have a message for our readers, the British Public and the Muslim community in Britain?
I just want you to keep praying for all of the prisoners around the world. Take care of yourselves and stick to your religion and the Truth. Do not fear no-one but Allah the Almighty and realise that this is the only the beginning of the wave, so if it did not reach you it will reach your children if the new Prime Minister is going to be like Tony Blair.