Feb
14

Abu Qatada row: UK and Jordan hold talks in Amman

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Home Office minister James Brokenshire meets Jordanian counterpart to discuss cleric’s proposed deportation from UK

Talks are underway in Amman between British and Jordanian ministers as the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada starts life under virtual house arrest after his release from Long Lartin top security prison.

The Home Office minister, James Brokenshire, flew to Jordan on Monday to try to secure fresh legal assurances that Abu Qatada would not face a retrial based on evidence obtained by torture if he was deported by Britain.

Brokenshire’s meeting with the Jordanian justice minister follows David Cameron’s intervention last Thursday when he telephoned the king of Jordan to seek an “effective solution” to the case.

The Jordanians have pointed to “constitutional reforms” passed last September banning all forms of torture and psychological abuse and said they would contest the ruling by the European court of human rights blocking Abu Qatada’s deportation.

“Jordan will promise to offer every guarantee of a fair trial in the kingdom,” said a spokesman. The legal affairs minister, Ayman Odeh, said on Monday: “We are now making the necessary arrangements to do such assurances through the British government. Very soon something will be done for this purpose.”

The Jordanian reaction has raised hopes that the way could be cleared for Abu Qatada’s legal deportation but the Strasbourg court made clear in its ruling last month that it was “unconvinced that these legal guarantees have any real practical value”.

The European human rights judges said that despite the Jordanian ban on the use of evidence obtained by torture, the systemic use of torture by the Jordanian security services to extract confessions remained “widespread and routine”.

Abu Qatada’s lawyers have already warned that any fresh deal with the Jordanians to send him back to Jordan will trigger a fresh round of litigation in the British courts to test its legality. The special immigration appeals commission has given ministers three months to make “demonstrable progress” with the Jordanians or face the risk of the removal of the highly restrictive bail conditions on Abu Qatada.

Both British and Spanish judges have identified Abu Qatada, who real name is Omar Othman, as a leading al-Qaida figure in Europe whom the UK authorities regard as a continuing threat to national security. He has spent nearly nine years detained or deprived of his liberty under curfew without charge or trial in Britain.

The detailed bail conditions under which he has been released are some of the toughest imposed since the 11 September 2001 attacks took place.

He is confined within his London address for 22 hours a day, monitored by an electronic tag and only allowed out twice a day for an hour each time during which he is under close surveillance. He is not allowed to talk to anyone who has not first been vetted by the security services and is banned from using mobile phones and accessing the internet. He is also prohibited from leading prayers, giving lectures, preaching or attending any mosque.

Boris Johnson, the London mayor, has claimed that it will take 60 police officers to mount a 24/7 surveillance operation on Abu Qatada at a cost of £10,000 a week. But Whitehall sources have questioned whether the 22-hour curfew enforced by an electronic tag means it is necessary to have a police officer outside his address at the same time.

Alan Travis

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