Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities Friday 10 March, for immediate release
Rachid Ramda, an Algerian man being tried on terrorism charges in France, has refused to participate in his own trial and has asked his lawyer to take no part in the proceedings. The court had earlier refused a request for the trial to be delayed to allow time for police to investigate allegations that key evidence against Mr Ramda had been obtained through torture. Mr Ramda's decision will be understood and respected by his many friends and supporters in Britain. He has always insisted that he is innocent of any involvement in the bombings he is accused of helping to finance. Characteristically, he was at pains in court to stress his sympathy for the bomb victims.
Speaking in court on 27 February, Rachid described the trial as "scandalous". He has already spent 10 years in Britain's Belmarsh Prison fighting efforts to have him extradited to France. For most of this time, British courts upheld his claim that he would not receive a fair trial in France. It was alleged that key evidence against him had been extracted from other suspects in the course of beatings by French police. Fresh allegations of appalling torture by an anti-terrorism squad have appeared in a book by three French journalists published in February. A trial of two alleged Corsican terrorists collapsed recently because of concerns about the reliability of evidence from the same squad.
For most of his time in Belmarsh, Rachid had to endure fearsome isolation. But in the last couple of years he had been receiving letters, phone calls and visits from British civil liberties campaigners. The thing that first drew their attention to his case was the stark fact that he had spent almost a decade in jail without having been convicted of any crime - something that most British people find simply incredible. But very soon it became personal. Everyone who came into contact with Rachid became his friend. Among Muslim fellow-prisoners he became known as "one-brother wonder" for his unquenchable good spirits. When the men detained without charge under Britain's Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 - ruled unlawful by Britain's Supreme Court, the Law Lords, in December 2004 - began their descent into madness, it was Rachid, for a long time, who gave them the support that the prison authorities failed to provide.
Those of us who opposed Rachid's extradition from Britain didn't do so with any notion that justice is to be relied on in our own country but is mysteriously absent on the other side of the Channel. On the the contrary, we have watched in horror as our government, acting in the name of the "war on terror," has demolished rights that have been fought for and cherished for centuries. And we certainly didn't act out of any failure to understand the horrors that French people suffered as a consequence of the 1995 Metro bombings. We've had our own share of such horrors.
We've seen that the behaviour of the British authorities in terrorism cases is determined not by a sense of justice, but by the needs of public relations, politics and diplomacy. We've seen that under these conditions, our security services' fondness for personal vendettas is able to operate almost unchecked. Unfortunately, we recognise the same shortcomings in France. It would be crazy to draw up a score card of human rights abuses in France and Britain. The governments of both countries have abandoned all sense of shame. But we fear that Rachid Ramda's particular circumstances mean that he is even less likely to receive fair treatment from the French authorities than from their counterparts here. On the other hand, we know there are countless people in France who hold justice and decency close to their hearts. We hope that they will give Rachid every possible support; that they will offer him their friendship and that they will exert whatever pressure they can to help him find justice.
For our part, we remain deeply concerned for Rachid's welfare. His boycott of the court was his own decision, taken without any opportunity for him to consult with his friends. We respect his judgement, and hope that it serves him well.