02 November 2012

UK Govt seeks to hand over detainees to Afghan torture prisons


Generic - light bulb in dingy corridor

The British Government is seeking to lift a moratorium on handing over Afghan detainees to prisons where there is clear evidence of torture, the High Court heard today.

Lawyers for Serdar Mohamed, who was tortured by the Afghan security services after being transferred to their custody by UK forces, today revealed that the British Government holds evidence that torture takes place in the prison to which he was sent. Despite this evidence, which the government has sought to keep secret, the Secretary of State for Defence is attempting to lift a moratorium on transfers to the Afghan intelligence services (NDS) which was put in place after Mr Mohamed’s case first surfaced.

Concerns have also been raised that, under the Government’s proposals for secret courts, such evidence of torture would in future not see the light of day.

The Court also heard that British officials on a trip in 2011 failed to ask for an explanation for the presence of an electric flex in an interview between a NDS interrogator and a prisoner, “for fear of causing a scene.”

Mr Mohamed’s case concerns the transfer of prisoners detained by UK forces in Afghanistan to the NDS. In June 2010, the Court, in a previous legal challenge brought on a similar basis hesitantly ruled that such transfers would be lawful, subject to the observance of specific safeguards. Relying on Government evidence, the Court found that providing such safeguards were in place there was no real risk of torture. The Government had asserted that, whilst torture may occur in Kabul prison, it did not occur in Lashkar Gar prison and as the Afghanis did not have the logistical capacity to transfer detainees between prisons without the UK’s knowledge it was safe for the Brits to hand over detainees to the NDS at Lashkar Gar.

Mr Mohamed was handed over to the Afghanis only one month after this ruling, was subsequently regularly tortured in Lashkar Gar prison and, without the UK’s knowledge, transferred to Kabul prison where has was tortured further. His torture included being beaten with sticks, cables and pipes for hours at a time and having his testicles twisted, causing pubic bleeding. After being tortured, Mr Mohamed was visited by a UK monitoring team who took photographs of his injuries. Mr Mohamed was therefore essentially subjected to the very thing that the Government told the Court was impossible.

Following Mr Mohamed’s allegations the UK Government placed a moratorium on all transfers of prisoners to the NDS. Today, the Government sought to lift that moratorium. In response, lawyers for Serdar Mohamed relied on evidence that the UK possesses reports and photographic evidence of torture equipment, including multiple pieces of electric flex braided or woven into a whip [photographs available on request].

Reprieve’s Legal Director Kat Craig said: “It is shocking that the Government is trying to lift a ban on transfers to the Afghan security services with one hand, while covering up evidence of torture with the other.  For now, they have not succeeded, but should plans for secret courts pass Parliament this will become child’s play.  Our parliamentarians must stand firm against plans to do away with centuries-old traditions of open and equal justice.  Otherwise, Government accountability for complicity in torture will become a thing of the past.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082

2. The June 2010 case referred to above is: R (Maya Evans) v Secretary of State for Defence [2010] EWHC 1445 (Admin) (“Evans 1”)

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