Otherstani

Otheristani, an animated poem by Talha Ahsan

Otherstani is a newly-released animation of a poem by Talha Ahsan.  Talha wrote the poem during his time in prison where he spent 8 years across the UK and the United States without trial.  In 2012, after spending 6 years in high security UK prisons, Talha was extradited to the United States to face "terrorism" charges. He was kept in a death row prison, spending a considerable amount of time in solitary confinement.

The film (3½ minutes) was made to highlight the work of the charity HHUGS (Helping Households Under Great Stress).  HHUGS provides financial, emotional, and practical support and advice to Muslim households impacted by counter-terrorism, national security and extremism-related laws, policies and procedures, in the UK and abroad.

Animation for the video was created by Malikah Holder, with music by Rui Da Silva (@producedbyDA). It was produced by Zain Dada (@zaindada92) and edited by Dhelia Snoussi (@DheliaSnoussi).

The charges against Talha arose from what his lawyers call "marginal assistance" over a period of 6 months – or perhaps 18 months according to prosecutors – in the running of a website, Azzam.com, that published information about armed jihad in Muslim countries. Talha Ahsan was about 20 years old at the time of his involvement with the website, which ended in August 2001.

Talha was (and is) a British citizen. His supposed criminal conduct took place in Britain and virtually all of the evidence against him was gathered in Britain. He had never visited the US. The US claimed jurisdiction because the website was for a time hosted on a web server in Connecticut. Talha and co-defendant Babar Ahmad wanted to be tried in Britain but the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, facilitated their extradition by refusing to bring charges. A petition calling for them to be tried in the UK was signed by over 140,000 people. It triggered a parliamentary debate on Britain's extradition arrangements, and led to legal and procedural changes that came into effect shortly after Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan had been packed off to the US.

In December 2013, while held in Connecticut's Northern Correctional Institution (a death-row prison), Talha changed his not-guilty plea to a guilty plea as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Speaking in court about the prison, Talha's lawyer said:

"You can look out and you are seeing mirror images of things but you don't know if what you are seeing is real, or if what you are seeing is a mirror reflecting what's behind you.  It was all constructed in that way to be as disorienting as possible... There's a great deal of both, I think, intentional and unintentional sensory deprivation, but he survived."

Plea bargains resolve a high proportion of US cases. The combination of pre-trial solitary confinement and the likelihood of long years of solitary confinement if convicted makes a plea bargain an offer that very few defendants - innocent or guilty - feel able to refuse. It is bargain made under threat of torture.

In the end, Talha was sentenced to the eight years he had already served in British and US prisons. Judge Janet Hall said:

"I believe the government agrees that there were never any plots even discussed by these defendants.  There was never any aid given by these defendants to effectuate a plot."

Talha returned home to London in the summer of 2014.

Some of Talha's poems were published by Radio Ramadan Edinburgh in 2011, as the booklet This Be The Answer. A poem called Grieving, that had not been included in This Be the Answer, was awarded the Koestler Trust’s Leopold de Rothschild Charitable Trust Platinum Award in 2012.

More about the Extradition of Talha Ahsan and the case against him