UK Drops Charges Against the War Critic It Jailed for Seven Months

Bagram, Guantanamo, Belmarsh — and zero convictions.

Azmet Begg and Moazzam Begg

Former Guantanamo detainee and War on Terror critic Moazzam Begg, who was arrested on dubious terror charges in February, is once again free. Earlier today, British authorities announced that charges against Begg had been dropped in full, and that he would shortly be released from Belmarsh Prison in London.

In a press statement regarding his release, West Midlands police said that:

New material has recently been disclosed to police and CPS, which has a significant impact on key pieces of evidence that underpinned the prosecution’s case….I understand this is going to raise many questions. However, explaining what this newly revealed information is would mean discussing other aspects of the case which would be unfair and inappropriate as they are no longer going to be tested in court. 

Begg had been jailed for the last seven months on allegations that he had attended a terrorist training camp during a 2012 visit to Syria. He has maintained that his visits were part of an investigation into Britain government involvement in the torture and rendition of War on Terror detainees, an investigation which was being conducted under the aegis of his detainee advocacy organization CAGE UK. As reported previously by The Intercept, far from being clandestine, Begg’s trip to Syria had in fact been conducted with the full knowledge and permission of MI5. Despite this, over a year after he came home from Syria, he found himself suddenly detained on allegations that he had engaged in terrorist activities while in the country.

From the start, it was clear that Begg’s arrest by British authorities was motivated by the government’s dislike for his advocacy rather than any actual criminality. As we wrote back in February when reporting on Begg’s arrest:

Begg has long been a vituperative critic of the British government’s conduct during the War on Terror but throughout this time he has always been a public figure under constant media and government scrutiny. The notion that he’d be able to engage in terrorism surreptitiously on a trip sanctioned by MI5 — then hide this for over a year — seems dubious in the extreme.

In the weeks before his arrest, Begg wrote that he had suffered escalating harassment from British authorities, something which he claimed was due to his “investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been wilfully complicit in torture.” In a cryptic Facebook post he wrote shortly before his arrest he would say: “Sometimes knowing too much can be a curse.”

In a statement to The Intercept, a spokesperson for CAGE said of the decision today:

This the second time in his life in which Moazzam has been denied his freedom without trial by a Western government. There has never been any evidence to back up the allegations against him, yet he has repeatedly been denied his basic rights as a British citizen. We believe the decision to drop the charges against him today is based on a desire to avoid the embarrassment of a trial where the weakness of the case would have been publicly exposed. Nonetheless, we are elated at the news of his release and the restoration his freedom.

Coupled with the time he endured under detention at Bagram airfield and Guantanamo Bay, Begg has now spent over three and a half years of his life behind bars, all without being convicted of anything. No allegation against him has ever been tried in court, and until recently no attempt has ever been made to even charge him. Nonetheless, he has been subject to repeated detention, harassment, and allegedly physical abuse.

While the release of Begg today is undoubtedly a positive development, the facts of his detention and continued persecution remain troubling. As one of the most prominent critics of the conduct of the War on Terror – particularly government complicity in torture and other serious human rights abuses – Begg has become a prime target for official scrutiny. His arrest and detention corresponds to a broader pattern of suppression of dissent during wartime, especially among Muslim populations living in Western countries.

Photo: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

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