View from London

Talha Ahsan is a British Muslim citizen born in London in 1979. In the week of his arrest – six years ago – he had job interviews to train as a librarian. He has Asperger Syndrome (a form of autism) and in a report of June 2009, a consultant psychiatrist described him as “an extremely vulnerable individual who from a psychiatric perspective would be more appropriately placed in a specialist service for adults with autistic disorders.”

Ahsan was arrested at his home in July 2006 in response to a request from the USA under the Extradition Act 2003, which does not require the presentation of any prima facie evidence. He is accused in the US of terrorism-related offences arising out of his alleged involvement over the period of 1997-2004 with jihadi websites supporting the Taliban.

He has never been arrested or questioned by British police. He has never visited America.

Yet on 5th October, despite no evidence having ever been produced against him, Talha Ahsan was extradited to the US after spending six years in a maximum security prison without any form of trial. The Home Affairs Select Committee,the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and a number of members of the British Parliament expressed grave concern at this obvious injustice.

Just a few days later another British, London-based Asperger’s sufferer, Gary McKinnon, who had spent eight years on ‘Extradition Row’ and faced 60 years in a US prison on charges relating to hacking into Pentagon and NASA computers from his bedroom, won the right to trial by a British court. Gary McKinnon, who is pale skinned and a non-Muslim will not now be extradited.

While no one should begrudge McKinnon his spurious ‘success’ at the hands of the British legal system, the majority would wish to see the execution of that system operating somewhat more even handedly.

While McKinnon plans his defence, Talha Ahsan languishes in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison, probably in Florida, facing trial in a US court. He was not even allowed to say goodbye to his devoted family who continue to campaign on his behalf.