The British government’s Ministry of Defence will be forced to appear in court today to justify the ongoing detention without trial of Yunus Rahmatullah in Bagram Internment Facility, Afghanistan.
Legal action charity Reprieve is seeking the immediate release of Yunus, a Pakistani citizen who was wrongfully arrested by British forces in Iraq in February 2004 and handed over to US forces for rendition to Bagram. Under the Memorandum of Understanding governing the transfer, 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 Yunus's rendition, 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. Bagram is notorious for human rights abuses, including homicides, and does not allow lawyers. Yunus has now been in continuous detention without trial there for seven years. He has only recently made telephone contact with his family and his physical and mental state has been described as ‘catastrophic’.
The British government has the power to remedy this injustice. The relevant UK-US Memorandum of Understanding grants control over Yunus to the United Kingdom and explicitly requires him to be returned to UK custody on request. There is no reason to think that the US Government would not comply with such a request: on 5 June 2010, a US Detainee Review Board held that Yunus’s continued internment was “not necessary”. There is therefore no lawful basis for his continued detention in Bagram.
The British government has repeatedly refused to right this wrong, and has actively obstructed Reprieve’s efforts to assist Yunus. Reprieve has therefore asked the UK’s Divisional Court to issue the writ of habeas corpus so as to secure Yunus’s release. The initial directions (scheduling) hearing is expected to take place today at 10.30am in Court 1 at London’s Royal Courts of Justice.
Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, said:
“Yunus Rahmatullah’s mother cries herself to sleep at night because the British Ministry of Defence wrongfully arrested her son and is 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.”