The Forgotten Detainees under Control Orders
I write to highlight the cruelty of the control orders placed upon my friends, their
wives and children and I hope to encourage you, Muslim and non Muslim, to support them
with your solidarity. Firstly, I think I should explain how I find myself in the lonely
position of writing to you with this appeal.
Two years ago I could not count one Muslim amongst my friends. I live in a small town
in the north east of Scotland and the nearest Mosque is in Dundee - 35 miles away.
Then in June 2003, I received a letter from my Italian friend TB who is incarcerated in
Belmarsh with Rachid Ramda. Rachid is an Algerian Muslim who has been held in this
top security prison without trial and charge for nearly 10 years. My friend TB has been
held for nearly 7 years now under similar circumstances. TB asked me if I had any Muslim
friends who could correspond with Rachid but, not knowing any, I decided to write to
Rachid myself and my life was immediately enhanced by the letters and poetry of this
exceptional man. He is now my brother and over time he has generously shared his family
in Algeria and his friends with me. In return for their friendship, I try to stay strong
for Rachid and TB but on occasions my sorrow overwhelms me and when they most need my
support all they hear is silence as I try to hide my tears. At these times, they
sustain me until I find my fighting spirit again. Recently both these men, having
successfully won their battle against extradition to countries - France and Italy -
whose prisons are renowned for their ill treatment of inmates, have been informed by
the Home Office that their extraditions will go ahead.
Rachid and I decided it could be useful to have phone contact and, under a new rule at
Belmarsh, the vetting covered me for visits too. Rachid had to initiate this procedure
and around two months later, after my husband and I sent photographs and other details
e.g. date of birth, occupation, relationship to prisoner etc. we were visited in our home
by two police officers from Tayside Police. I understand this visit was to verify our
identities. They asked about our relationship with Rachid and we explained our connection. They were probably in our house for about half and hour. As they left, we were told that if we passed the vetting, we would be able to visit any prisoner in a British prison without having to go through these formalities again. They also left their card in case we "ever needed to get in touch" with them. Ironically, I visited Rachid in Belmarsh before I ever spoke to him on the telephone! His friends had failed the vetting on more than one occasion and I was his first visitor in eight years so it was with heavy heart that I was driven to Belmarsh by Rachid's dear friend who has been refused permission to spend a precious few hours in his company. Rachid and I had got well acquainted through our letters by then so I felt that I was visiting an old friend. Over 9 months I have met Rachid seven times and our visits are so happy and full of laughter. The only sad part is when I have to walk away and leave him there and I suspect it is even harder for him. I am his only visitor. Cruelly, the British Government has refused Rachid's loving family a visiting visa 12 times.
Through Rachid and TB, I learned about the Muslim men, held indefinitely under the
Anti-Terrorism 2001 Act experiencing great hardship under the direst conditions, and
my heart went out to them. I started by writing to the single detainees - I was unsure
of the propriety of communicating with the married men. However, their wives soon
became my friends too and on my visits to London, they surround me with their warmth
and hospitality and treat me like a sister.
One man under health, under indefinite detention, deteriorated so badly that he
could no longer communicate but I continued to write to him every week and when he was
eventually admitted to Broadmoor he asked me to visit him there. He is known as Detainee
B but I call him McGregor. Because he was now in a hospital, I had to be vetted again -
this time by Broadmoor security and the Thames Valley Police. I explained about my previous vetting and this time I did not have to provide photographs but the vetting still took months and I lost the chance of visiting him on my next trip to London. Another of my friends, Detainee M, was also transferred to Broadmoor and he had not received a visitor either in the three years he had been imprisoned. I applied to be vetting to visit M too and this took a lot less time. The cruel decision of David Blunkett to transfer them to Broadmoor sometimes overwhelmed me. Can you imagine how you would feel if this happened to your friends?
Detainee B is a gifted potter and his free spirit appeared undiminished, even in such a frightening place but I was shocked by his weight loss of over 3 stones. I had a great time in his company and returned the next day for a second visit. On my second trip to Broadmoor, I also met Detainee M for the first time. This was very different from any visit I had made before. Detainee M is disabled so we met in the ward rather than the Visitors Room. The staff had set up a small table covered with a table cloth in the corridor and they provided coffee and biscuits. We could almost have been sitting chatting at a road side café. I already knew him through our letters and we were left alone for two hours to get re-acquainted. His physical disability would have been enough for any sane person to cope with and after fighting for years in Belmarsh to be provided with the most basic of care, he became clinically depressed. I felt so downhearted when I had to walk away and leave him there in a hospital for the criminally insane. I travelled to Broadmoor with Mrs. Abu Rideh and her five children who are one of the nicest families I have ever met. Each visit cost the family £80 in taxi fares. They had no alternative but to use this mode of transport and although Broadmoor reimburses half of public transport costs, taxis are excluded. He husband, Mahmoud, a victim of Israeli torture, had spend a very long time in Broadmoor after being transferred from Belmarsh due to his deteriorating physical and mental health. She has been alone for years now trying to protect her five children from harm and fighting a constant battle to draw attention to her husband's plight. This woman is so courageous. Perhaps I could do her justice if I had the eloquence of the Arabic language but I can find no worthy words to describe her fortitude.
Less than a week after my visits, the detainees were discharged under Control Orders with
their families being subject to the same constraints. Any sense of victory at their
release lasted less than a day. I had waited anxiously with their wives over the space
of many weeks, with hopes raised, following the House of Lord's decision to end the
injustice of indefinite detention. My anxiety could not compare in the slightest with
the uncertainly of the men still languishing in Britain's high security prisons where
their hopes had been raised and dashed so many times over the years that had they
reached the point of despondency. These control orders under the Prevention of
Terrorism Act 2005 are condemning my friends and their families to a "half" life.
I believe there is nothing to stop their situation becoming almost permanent.
They all live in a constant state of anxiety.
One friend's house was always full of her friends and extended family but no one has
entered her home since her husband's release. Now, they will have to send their
photographs to the Home Office to be vetted for visits and understandably some of
them are frightened. She talks of their concern of continually watching the time to
ensure that they are home by 7pm and she knows how hard it will be to be confined to
their home in the light summer evenings ahead. Another woman, whose brother is
detained under Control Orders and lives close by him, has still not passed the
vetting to visit him and his family.
Another friend was left alone without the support of friends and neighbours when her
husband was admitted to hospital recently. Although her husband wasn't there, her
house was still under Control Orders and no one was allowed to enter. His mother,
who had travelled from abroad, stayed at the hospital - she could not comfort his
wife at home because she had not been vetted. I phoned my friend and we both cried.
I called my friend in London who runs Hhugs (Helping Households Under Great Stress)
and she cried too. Under the Control Order restrictions, we felt so impotent.
We could do little to support our friend when she was most in need.
M is very lonely in his isolation. He is in temporary accommodation without a phone
adapted for his disability. Some of his former friends prefer not to notice him in
the street. No doubt because they are afraid they will draw attention to themselves.
M understands this but sadly, after his long detention in Belmarsh and Broadmoor
without trial or charge, when he desperately needs the support and strength of his
friends, they are not there for him.
I phone B every evening to keep him company for a while. He was removed from
Broadmoor against his wishes and on arriving at his temporary accommodation the
door had to be broken down to gain entry as no one had the key. Due to his
current mental state, he could not bare the restrictions under these conditions
and was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward. It is very upsetting to know
that his vibrant spirit has been crushed so cruelly.
This is just a very small part of their stories. I expect that the other
Muslim men and their families, suffering under the constraints of control
orders, are faring no better. They are victims of a civilised world 2005.
Ann Alexander, 16 April 2005
How You can Help
Please write to the ex-detainees. Your letter will make a tremendous difference.
- Financial Support. At most the men are receiving £35 a week on which
to live. Many of them have young children and families to support. The
council accommodation that has been designated for the single detainees
is bare, dismal and depressing to say the least. Your donations can
help to finance their needs and may go towards the payment of bills,
food, furnishings, etc.
You can send cheques to:
Hhugs, PO Box 415, New Malden, KT3 9AF
Alternatively you can pay directly into HHugs account, quoting the
reference "control orders":
Hhugs, HSBC account number, 31438603, Sort code 40-34-24
- Practical Support. Hhugs are also looking for volunteers who will be
able to help the men in practical terms; whether that may be shopping
on their behalf, cooking meals for them, visits and so forth.
Please contact on 07931 833980 if you are able