Contempt of court threat for 'terror' filmmakers

By Miranda Wilson, Institute of Race Relations

Two British filmmakers, who highlighted the plight of a Jordanian 'terror suspect' being detained without trial in the UK, could face legal action.

Fred Grace and Gemma Atkinson, of Fat Rat Films, have been told that the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, may be considering contempt of court proceedings against them for interviewing a terror suspect who was under control order-style bail conditions.

Grace and Atkinson made a short film about Hussain Saleh Hussain Alsamamara which aired on BBC2's Newsnight in June this year. Mr Alsamamara arrived in Britain in 2001 and claimed asylum. That claim was rejected and in 2004 he was arrested by police and imprisoned, pending deportation to Jordan. The Jordanian intelligence department has told the British government it wants to question him.

Mr Alsamamara denies any links with terrorism and says he faces torture if he is returned. His bail immigration conditions include a curfew, electronic tagging, no access to the internet and restrictions on his use of communication equipment. He's also banned from having any electronic storage devices on his premises. By allowing Fat Rat Films to interview him, Mr Alsamamara breached his bail conditions.

At a Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal hearing, Mr Alsamamara's bail was extended and Mr Justice Mitting said that consideration should be given to contempt of court proceedings against the filmmakers. If found guilty, Grace and Atkinson could face a jail sentence.

The human rights charity, Liberty, is now representing Grace and Atkinson. The charity's Legal Director, James Welch, says, 'The war on terror has been synonymous with sweeping up the innocent with the guilty and undermining the values that democrats hold dear. Fred and Gemma are filmmakers facing punishment for doing their job in a free society. I feel certain that the new Law Officers will not let this continue.'

Control orders were brought in by the previous Government under the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act after the Law Lords ruled that indefinite detention without charge for foreign terror suspects in Belmarsh prison violated their human rights. Control orders (applicable to British and non-nationals alike) restrict who a person can meet, where they can go and all cases have involved electronic tagging. Restrictions include lengthy curfews and bans on unauthorised visitors and internet access. Control orders can last indefinitely. The person does not have to be accused of any crime and does not have to be told why they are under suspicion.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.