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Strasbourg judges reject terrorism suspects' extradition appeal

10 April 2012

The European Court of Human Rights disappointed many of its critics this morning by rejecting the claims of five men charged with terrorism offences in the US that extradition would violate their human rights.

Abu Hamza, who has a hook instead of a hand and used to preach at Finsbury Park mosque, Babar Ahmad and three others argued that their potential imprisonment in an American ‘supermax’ prison in the Rockies would amount to inhuman and degrading treatment under article 3.

The ECtHR had already ruled, in 2010, that Hamza’s appeal under article 3 was inadmissible because his severe disabilities meant there was no “real risk” of him spending more than a short period at the top security ADX Florence jail in Colorado.

Once again, the Strasbourg judges rejected Hamza’s complaints, saying that his disabilities were severe, “not least the fact that both his forearms have been amputated”, and that fact alone would make his detention at ADX “impossible”.

In four other cases, the court held that there was a real risk of detention at ADX Florence.

Ruling in Babar Ahmad and others v UK (application nos 24027/07 and others), the ECtHR said there was no dispute that physical conditions at the supermax prison, such as the size of cells, met the requirements of article 3.

Instead, the applicants’ complained about the alleged lack of procedural safeguards before they were sent there and the “restrictive conditions and lack of human contact”.

However, the court found there was “no basis” for the applicants’ submission that placement of the men would take place without safeguards.

It held that not all inmates convicted of terrorism offences were housed at the prison and the Federal Bureau of Prisons applied “accessible and rational criteria” before deciding whether to transfer people.

The court accepted that the men were not “physically dangerous” but said “the United States’ authorities would be justified in considering the applicants, if they are convicted, as posing a significant security risk and justifying strict limitations on their ability to communicate with the outside world.

“There is nothing to indicate that the United States’ authorities would not continually review their assessment of the security risk which they considered the applicants to pose.”

Although the regime at ADX Florence was “highly restrictive”, it did not mean that prisoners were kept in “complete sensory isolation or total social isolation”.

The ECtHR said: “Although inmates are confined to their cells for the vast majority of the time, a great deal of in-cell stimulation is provided through television and radio channels, frequent newspapers, books, hobby and craft items and educational programming.

“The range of activities and services provided goes beyond what is provided in many prisons in Europe. Where there are limitations on the services provided, for example restrictions on group prayer, these are necessary and inevitable consequences of imprisonment.”

Abu Hamza and the four others also claimed that if any of them were given a life sentence it would be “grossly disproportionate” and a violation of article 3.

The ECtHR said that due regard must be given to the fact that “sentencing practices vary greatly” between nation states and only in “very exceptional cases” would an applicant be able to prove that a sentence he would have to face would be grossly disproportionate.

The judges said that even a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole was not per se incompatible with the convention, “although the trend in Europe is clearly against such sentences”.

They found that the applicants had not demonstrated that there would be a real risk of treatment reaching the threshold of article 3.

However, the ECtHR added that the UK government should not extradite the men until they had decided whether or not to appeal the court’s Grand Chamber.

The court adjourned its ruling on the fate of a sixth man, Haroon Rashid, on the grounds of his mental health problems.

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Police & Prisons