x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Lawyers in UK issue writ for Pakistani man held seven years without trial

Yunus Rahmatullah was captured by UK special forces in Iraq in February 2004., handed over to US forces and subsequently sent to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he remains to this day. His lawyers argue that he should either be charged and put on trial, or set free.

LONDON // British lawyers trying to free a Pakistani held without trial for seven years have filed legal documents contending that he is being held illegally.

Lawyers for Yunus Rahmatullah have issued a writ of habeas corpus and have secured a hearing at the High Court in London next month.

Mr Rahmatullah was originally captured by UK special forces in Iraq during an operation against suspected insurgents in February 2004.

He was handed over to US forces and subsequently sent to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he remains to this day. His lawyers argue that, under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Americans, he remains a detainee under UK control.

Two High Court judges this week set June 23 for the hearing where his lawyers will argue that Mr Rahmatullah should either be charged and put on trial, or set free.

Lawyers for the UK's defence ministry and Foreign Office are expected to defend the decision to keep Mr Rahmatullah in detention.

Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based human rights group Reprieve, said: "Yunus Rahmatullah's mother cries herself to sleep at night because the British Ministry of Defence wrongfully arrested her son and is refusing to facilitate his release.

"The legal black hole of Bagram is antithetical to the rule of law and, according to former prisoners, makes Guantanamo look like a five-star hotel. The UK must do the decent thing and help victims like Yunus who are trapped there."

Nathalie Lieven, a barrister representing Reprieve, told the High Court on Tuesday that lawyers were not able to speak directly to him but were taking instructions from a relative.

"We do not anticipate there will be any question of taking instructions direct from Mr Rahmatullah," Ms Lieven added. "We will not be able to get instructions about what happened when he was seized in Iraq."

In her submission to the court, Ms Lieven said Mr Rahmatullah denied being a terrorist but admitted he had gone to Iraq "for jihad".

He told a US military review board that he made "a serious mistake" and "was too young to understand the consequences of that".

Ms Lieven said that he had studied at a madrassa in Lahore and been "brainwashed" into developing a hatred for Americans.

Until February 2009, the British government insisted that everyone captured by British forces in Iraq and handed to the Americans had remained in Iraq. But the-then defence secretary John Hutton finally admitted that Mr Rahmatullah and one other man, believed to be Amanatullah Ali, another Pakistani, had been transferred to Afghanistan.

At the time, Mr Hutton said both men had been categorised by the US military as unlawful enemy combatants and as members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an organisation with links to al Qa'eda.

A spokesman for Reprieve, which is sponsoring the legal challenge, said: "Under the MoU, the UK retains control over Yunus and can request his return at any time, but has refused to do so."

The UK government has repeatedly declined to comment on the legality of Mr Rahmatullah's rendition to Afghanistan, but the Geneva Conventions state that the rendition of a civilian out of the territory where he was seized is a "grave breach", that is, a war crime.

His lawyers said: "Yunus has now been in continuous detention without trial for seven years. He has only recently made telephone contact with his family and his physical and mental state has been described as 'catastrophic'."