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Eid in Isolation: The Detainee Unit in HMP Long Lartin

>1 Shawwal 1431 / 10 September 2010

Today was the Day of Eid, a day of happiness, a day of joy, a day of celebration. It was a day when we all celebrated the end of Ramadhan and our coming closer to Allah, by feasting, exchanging gifts, and spending time with our families. Today was also a day when a mother and a father cried endless tears and wept ceaselessly for their son, locked away from them in a maximum security prison for over six years without trial or charge.

In the six years that Babar Ahmad has been incarcerated, his parents have had to undergo tremendous suffering in his absence. It is any parent’s wish and prayer that their sons are there to care for them in their old age, to love, serve and protect them, and to lower the wing of humility to them as commanded by Allah. When we were weak and helpless as children, it was our parents who nurtured and protected us. When they grow old and need our assistance, it is only right that we are there for them. Yet, for the parents of Babar Ahmad, 75 and 67 years of age respectively, they have been alone to fend for themselves for the past six years. In addition to the difficulties of everyday life, they have also had to undergo the gruelling day long trip to see Babar every week for six years during which they are subjected to a number of different searches, including a dog search.

Beyond these difficulties however, it is the simple fact that the child they reared, raised and educated continues to live behind bars without charge, that has caused the most heartache. To the outside world, they endure all this with great patience. They laugh, they joke, they advise others and they continue with their lives. Yet behind this mask of bravery, they silently weep while the world sleeps. This Eid, their sorrow reached an unprecedented level and the dam of resilience began to crack and the tears gushed forth like never before. According to their daughters, they have never been so upset and distressed throughout this ordeal as they were today.

This is not their first Eid without Babar – it is their thirteenth. So what has changed? It is the news that while the Ummah all prayed the Eid prayer in ranks together side by side, Babar prayed alone in his prison cell, prohibited from joining the other Muslim prisoners attending the congregational Eid prayer. While Muslims around the globe embraced one another in happiness in celebration of the day, Babar sat alone in his cell and thanked Allah. While Muslims the world over feasted throughout the day enjoying the richest foods, Babar had to settle for a humble meal of tea and biscuits.

For this year, the Governor at HMP Long Lartin decided that Babar and six other detainees being held without charge, would not attend the Eid prayers along with the other Muslim prisoners. For almost two years, these detainees have been held in isolation from the main prison. They are prohibited from attending Friday prayers with the other prisoners and do not have access to facilities in the main prison such as gym, workshop and education. Eid is their only opportunity to mix with the other prisoners. This year, the Governor tightened the screw further and banned them from attending the Eid prayers. They were instead given the unenviable “choice” of either praying alone in the isolated detainee unit or praying the congregational prayer with convicted paedophiles and sex offenders in the ‘vulnerable prisoners’ unit, a move which would expose them to a substantive risk of physical harm from other prisoners.

The Governor’s justification for such a draconian measure is that the prison authorities are unable to manage the risk posed by the detainees. This is despite the fact that those convicted of terrorism offences and other serious crimes are allowed to attend the Friday and Eid prayers. If the prison authorities are clearly able to manage the risk posed by such prisoners, then surely it must be able to manage the risk posed by detainees who have never even been charged with a criminal offence. These are detainees who the Governor himself has previously described as “well-behaved” and “model prisoners” and who admitted that there was no evidence that they had caused any problems from 2005 to 2008 when they were allowed access facilities in the main prison with other prisoners. As a result, such a justification lacks any credibility.

In the absence of any rational or justifiable basis to prohibit Babar and the detainees from attending Eid prayers this year, it can only be assumed that it is the latest in a series of measures taken designed to psychologically wear them down. After nearly two years of isolation, some detainees are on the verge of mental breakdown. The hope of praying Eid prayers alongside other prisoners was the only silver lining in their gloomy cloud. The Governor’s offer to allow them to pray alongside sex offenders and paedophiles alone instead only underlines the cruelty and contempt with which the detainees are treated.

This is the harsh reality of the treatment of terror suspects held without charge in Britain today. While Babar has been held without charge for over six years, other detainees have languished inside for over twelve years. The detainees have been dignified in the face of such oppression asserting that the happiness they experience on Eid is from feeling one has come closer to Allah during Ramadhan, it is something which develops in the heart which no human being can take away from them, no matter how difficult they make life for them. For the parents however, the anguish is becoming too much to bear. We pray that Allah gives them the sabrun jameelun (a beautiful patience) of the Prophet Yaqub who wept so much when his sons and Yusuf and Binyamin were missing that it is said he went blind. He had at all times had full faith in His Lord that his sons would be returned to him. We pray that the detainees are also returned to their families very soon and that this Eid is their last in captivity.

Take Action Now

  1. Write to the Minister for Justice Kenneth Clarke QC MP to express your concerns about the detainees in HMP Long Lartin. Emphasise how those convicted of terrorism are allowed access to facilities such as attending Eid and Friday prayers without any problems arising due to the ability of the prison to manage any possible risk posed. If such risk can be managed with convicted prisoners, surely it should be possible to manage any risk posed by detainees held without trial. The detainees are in a desperate situation with their isolation slowly breaking down their psychological and mental state.
    The Rt. Hon. Mr. Kenneth Clarke QC MP
    Ministry of Justice
    102 Petty France
    SW1H 9AJ
    United Kingdom
    Telephone: +44 (0)20 3334 3555
    Fax: +44 (0)20 3334 4455
  2. Please also register your complaints and concern with the HMP Long Lartin Governor, Simon Cartwright.
    Governor: Simon Cartwright
    HMP Long Lartin (Detainee Unit)
    South Littleton
    WR11 8TZ
    United Kingdom
    Telephone: +44 (0)1386 295 100
    Fax: +44 (0)1386 295 101