Many readers will be familiar with the case of Algerian-born Hicham Yezza. He, along with Rizwaan Sabir, were arrested at their Notts Uni office back in May under the Terrorism Act. Sabir, whose postgraduate research specialism is fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, downloaded an Al-Qaeda training manual (from an official US government website!) and forwarded it to Yezza for printing. This was picked up by university IT staff, which was passed up the management chain, who in turn informed the police. Both men were taken into custody for six days, and then released without arrest.
It seems they were arrested under suspicion of committing thoughtcrime. Research into extremism involves handling all manner of questionable material, and this a basic given as far as academic values are concerned. But this was not a good enough explanation for the counter-terrorist police. They extensively quizzed Yezza about his activities in Nottingham's anti-war movement, his role as the editor of local magazine, Ceasefire, and about his comrades on the staff. The Free Hicham campaign reports what happened next:
Not having been charged under the Terrorism Act, Hich was immediately re-arrested minutes after his release for charges under the Immigration Act, in a move that was considered by many (not least Nottingham South MP, Alan Simpson) to be highly political and suspect. Despite Hich’s publicly-declared intention that he was determined to fight the charges in court, and that he was seeking detailed legal advice, an order for a fast-tracked deportation was suddenly issued on May 23 and a deportation flight was scheduled for June 1. The Home Office planned to remove Hich from the U.K. after thirteen years’ of residence less than three weeks after his arrest under the Terrorism Act. Thanks to a huge campaign of protest at this injustice, including the biggest demonstration in the university’s history, a successful legal challenge was mounted and the fast-track deportation was cancelled.The Home Office have since charged Yezza with immigration-related offences, but offered to drop them if he left the country "quietly". Then came a deal that would have allowed Hich to stay until he had his day in court, a position the Home Office has reneged on. They aim to deport him after a short hearing due on 8th January.
Nonetheless, the Home Office refused to grant Hich temporary release whilst his case was being reconsidered. He subsequently spent a total of three weeks being moved across the country from one Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) to another, in the process spending over twenty-five hours being transported in secured transit vans. During the course of his detention, he endured significant physical as well as emotional pressures from the detention authorities, including a forcible removal from Colnbrook IRC to Dover IRC. On June 16, an application lodged by his legal team to have him released on bail was successful despite strong opposition from the Home Office.
The persecution of Yezza is political. Rather than admit the misuse of the already draconian Terrorism Act the authorities would prefer to hush it up by disposing of their inconvenient victim as quickly as possible. But this is literally a matter of life and death. There are fears Hich could face torture and possible execution if he returns to Algeria. As far as the government is concerned, what's a life against their precious deportation figures? Donations to the campaign and what you can do to help are detailed here.
Edit 08/03/09: Hicham Yezza update here.