Abu Qatada: Even terror suspects have human rights

This is a cross post from the Huffington Post by Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation

The whole point about the principle of universal human rights is that they apply to everyone – even to people that many of us find objectionable, such as the alleged terrorist orchestrator Abu Qatada.

Home Secretary Theresa May is wrong to promise to reduce the appeals procedure in asylum cases involving foreign nationals and to scrap our precious, hard-won human rights laws in the light of the Qatada fiasco.

It would be huge mistake to scale-back the asylum appeals system because of the case of Qatada. The appeals procedure exists to ensure fairness and to safeguard against miscarriages of justice.

We should never diminish our civil liberties and our due legal process in response to a minority of exceptional cases, no matter how reprehensible people like Abu Qatada may be.

What is proposed by the government is an ill-thought, knee-jerk reaction that is both autocratic and petulant.

Successive Home Secretaries are guilty of giving Abu Qatada the whip hand. They could have dealt with him a decade ago by putting him on trial, in either the British courts or in a Jordanian court, specially convened in the UK.

There is a precedent. A similar arrangement was made for the alleged Lockerbie bomber, who was convicted in 2001 in a special Scottish court that was established in The Netherlands.

If there is evidence that a person has committed a crime, the appropriate response is to prosecute them. Why didn’t this happen in Qatada’s case? Who blocked this judicial remedy?

The government, police and prosecutors damn him as a dangerous criminal, yet they did nothing to bring him to justice? It doesn’t make sense.

Even a fool could see that there was no need for the long drawn-out and expensive asylum farce. Criminal prosecution would have ended Qatada’s protracted asylum case a very long time ago.

Theresa May allowed Abu Qatada to play his case as an asylum issue, when all along it was primarily a criminal issue concerning allegations of terrorism. If he’d been prosecuted 12 years ago, more than a decade of asylum wrangles could have been avoided.

To make matters worse, Home Secretary, Theresa May, this week told parliament:

“I have made clear my view that in the end the Human Rights Act must be scrapped. We must also consider our relationship with the European Court very carefully, and I believe that all options – including withdrawing from the Convention altogether – should remain on the table.”

This is an outrageous over-reaction. The threat to scrap the Human Rights Act and possibly withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights is a menace to the civil liberties of every British citizen.

To deal with one man, Theresa May is proposing that whole nation should suffer curtailed rights and freedoms. This is a bad way to make law.

The Human Rights Act and European Convention are important protections against the abuse of state power. Only an autocrat would want to abolish them. They give every individual redress against the violation of their rights and have helped protect many people from an over-bearing state and from intrusive, discriminatory laws.

I oppose what Abu Qatada stands for and no doubt he does not share my values. However, even people I oppose have human rights. Our distaste for particular individuals should never be the basis or motive for changes in the law – least of all changes that diminish our hard-won collective liberties.

One measure of a democracy is how we treat dissenting – even repulsive – voices. We must never allow terrorists or their apologists to call the shots on legislation, which is what is happening in this case.

Abu Qatada is successfully provoking the Home Secretary to propose the curtailment of the legal rights of all of us. Please think again Theresa May.