[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] Tuesday blocked the deportation [judgment; press release] of a Muslim cleric from the UK to Jordan. Abu Qatada is a Palestinian-Jordanian Islamic scholar who fled the Middle East under persecution to London in 1993, where he was granted political asylum. The ECHR has blocked deportation on the grounds that the evidence of his involvement in two terrorist conspiracies had been obtained by Jordanian authorities by torturing one of Qatada’s co-defendants, and there is widespread use of torture evidence by Jordanian courts. The UK government has been trying to deport Qatada [BBC report] since 2005, but he maintains that in Jordan he will face extended confinement, an unfair trial, and perhaps torture:
[Qatada] argued that his high profile would mean he would be of real interest to the Jordanian authorities. If returned, he would also face retrial for the offences for which he had been convicted in absentia. He would thus face lengthy pre-trial detention … and, if convicted, would face a long term of imprisonment. All these factors meant he was at real risk of torture, either pre-trial or after conviction, to obtain a confession from him or to obtain information for other reasons. … [H]e alleged that his retrial would be flagrantly unfair: the State Security Court, a military court, lacked independence from the executive and there was a real risk that evidence obtained by torture—either of him, his co-defendants or other prisoners—would be admitted against him.
The ECHR denied the other claims and blocked deportation based only on a finding of real risk of admission at Qatada’s retrial of evidence obtained by torture of third persons.
Qatada was granted political asylum by the UK in 1994. When he was arrested in 2001 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989, police seized a sizable sum of money in various currencies for which no explanation was given. Later in 2001, he went into hiding to avoid being arrested and detained under the then-proposed Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. He was arrested again in 2002 and held until March 2005 when he was released pursuant to a House of Lords judgment declaring his detention without trial to be unlawful. In February 2009 the ECHR ordered the UK to pay £2,500 in damages [JURIST report] to Qatada after determining that his imprisonment violated the European Convention on Human Rights [official website]. Despite his previous grant of asylum and fears of torture and persecution, UK Law Lords in February 2009 ruled that Qatada could be returned [JURIST report] to Jordan to face terrorism charges. The February decision overruled an April 2008 Court of Appeal decision blocking his deportation [JURIST report].