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5 Nov 2002 : Column 255—continued

5 Nov 2002 : Column 256

Maajid Nawaz

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Caplin.]

11.10 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): Tonight, Maajid Nawaz lies incarcerated in a prison in Egypt. He was arrested in April and accused of belonging to the Islamic liberation movement. He is a 24-year-old married man with a child aged two. His mother, Mrs. Nawaz, my constituent, saw me at the beginning of her son's imprisonment to share with me her agony at the way that he is being treated.

When Mrs. Nawaz came to see me at my surgery last Friday, she was even more distressed, because she had not been prepared for what she saw in Egypt when her son's trial began. He was brought into the courtroom in a cage, along with 25 other men. During the proceedings, incredibly—it is not common practice in British courts—drinks, ice cream and other things were sold, as if the trial were a trivial matter.

During the trial, it transpired that there was no proper translation of the evidence; indeed, the evidence did not seem to be correctly presented. The trial is adjourned at present because of Ramadan, but I hope that as a result of the debate the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) will do his best to ensure that justice is done. I know, too, that constituents of other Members currently in the Chamber are similarly affected.

I want to make it clear that I do not want to criticise the actions of Ministers in this matter. Baroness Amos has done everything that she possibly can to secure justice for those in prison. The Foreign Secretary has done what he can. However, for whatever reason, the Government's protestations have not been entirely heeded.

Maajid's arrest took place at 3 am on 1 April. It was a frightening experience. The arresting officers and soldiers had no warrant. They claimed that, as it was their country, they did not need one. I have evidence about what took place.

Maajid was taken from his house at gunpoint. He claims that the security forces were brandishing semi-automatic machine guns, grenades and various bombs. The experience was extremely frightening. Dozens of soldiers were in attendance. It appears that there was overuse of violence, even though unarmed men were being arrested.

Maajid's wife was told that he would be back in two days. That was in April. The phone cable was removed, leaving Maajid's wife, who has no command of the Egyptian language, alone in a foreign country with no means of communication with the outside world. Maajid was taken to a cell where he was blindfolded and handcuffed. He was quizzed about his ethnic origin and left to sleep on a concrete floor. At no stage were the families of the men informed why they had been arrested.

Between 1 and 4 April, Maajid and the other men were held in a jail in Cairo. The House would not benefit from hearing lurid details of the torture that went on, but Maajid was forced to listen to people being tortured

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by electricity. He was threatened, blindfolded, tied up with rope and deprived of sleep. His hands were tied behind his back. He had to share a blanket with another person, even though it was not big enough to keep either of them warm. When eating meals, his hands were tied together in front of him. The meals were simply bread and cheese. Maajid was often treated badly. I know that it is a complaint sometimes about British jails, but the toilet facilities were beyond belief.

From 4 April, Maajid was transferred to another prison. He was forced to make statements while still in a state of shock. Increasingly, he was deprived of any sleep whatever. That went on for a month and a half, as Maajid and his colleagues obviously became more and more demoralised. They were denied access to beds, lights and other such facilities. They were revisited by the torturers from state security and tortured again while blindfolded. There were no mattresses; the men were again left to lie on a concrete floor in the dark. While all that was going on, is it surprising that some style of confessions were extracted under torture?

The general complaint—of which I know the Minister is aware—is that Maajid and others feel that they were denied access to the British consul for roughly a week, and to lawyers for a month and a half. Gordon Brown, the head of the consulate in Cairo, has been given all this evidence and is acting on it.

Maajid, his mother and the legal team believe that the Egyptian Government have broken the Vienna convention on consular relations by not informing the consul of the arrests until 10 days after they took place. The United Nations convention against torture has also been infringed by a failure to investigate the claims straight away and by not responding to an official complaint lodged by the United Kingdom consulate. Egyptian law and human rights law have also been infringed by denying the men access to lawyers for one and a half months despite attempts by the consulate to gain such access.

Added to that, people can be held under emergency law only if they are thought to be drug dealers or terrorists, yet on 24 June, the terrorist charges were dropped and the men were instead charged with being members of a banned party. Suspects can only be held under emergency law for a maximum of 30 days, yet they were held under that law for two months and 24 days—another breach of the conventions.

The solicitors assisting Maajid and others, Christian Fisher Khan, said that the charges are as follows. The first is that of promoting by speech and writing the goals of a group founded in violation of the provision of the law—the Islamic Liberation party—which calls for dispensing with the constitution and laws, preventing state institutions from performing their work, promoting among themselves and others the group's call for considering the ruling regime as oppressive and rising against it with a view to destabilising a state based on Islamic teachings.

The second charge is that of possessing printed literature that promotes the movement's message, of distributing the literature and of showing it to others. The third and final charge is that of possessing a printing instrument—a computer—which would be used for propagating the movement's message.

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Mrs. Nawaz came to see me on Friday to describe exactly how the trial was conducted. Twenty-six men were held in the courtroom in a cage in which there was standing room only. Ice cream, other food and drink were sold in the aisles to the public—during a trial in 2002. The men were not allowed any food or drink. They were allowed neither interpreters nor bail. The prosecution failed to disclose evidence and had to be ordered to do so by the judge.

The men, after much changing of the charges, are accused, among other things, of possessing books that should not have been in their possession, even though the books are London university textbooks and freely available in Egypt—in fact, the men bought them from the annual Cairo book fair. According to a press release from the solicitors Christian Fisher Khan, Hodan Pankhurst, the wife of Reza Pankhurst, has said:

Charges were changed from


which is a problem given that Maajid cannot read or write Arabic. The trial has now been postponed through Ramadan. Two committees were set up to examine the issues connected to the books seized. The judge has agreed to appoint translators for the next hearing so that the accused men will know what is going on. I am glad to say that the judge is unhappy about the fact that some evidence presented by the prosecution has nothing at all to do with the men who have been charged.

Maajid was in Egypt as part of his university course, for which he was required to spend a year in either Egypt or Syria; he felt that Egypt would be the safer of the two countries. Maajid is a member of the Islamic Liberation party, which is not proscribed. That is the heart of the problem. Hassan Risvi and Hirosho Ito are not in that group: initially, they were held under the emergency law, but after 24 June they were held under criminal law.

As I said, Egypt is in contravention of the Vienna convention on consular relations. Mrs. Nawaz has a campaign going in my constituency to get support for her son, and that is working extremely well—the local newspaper, the Southend Evening Echo is assisting, and Mr. Andrew Baker, Maajid's former headmaster, has written to me in some detail about Maajid and told me how incredible it is to him that Maajid has been accused of trying to undermine the state of Egypt.

Forensic state doctors examined the men and found no evidence of torture, but that was done seven months after the alleged torture took place, and it is said that electrical torture can be administered in such a way as to leave no marks. Some of the men have lost the use of their limbs, or did so temporarily. They are, I am pleased to say, now freely allowed to use the toilet, and all those with Maajid in the cage have recently been contacted by their lawyers, so there has been some improvement there.

It would appear that Maajid's telephone was tapped for a week prior to his arrest because he looked up the ILP website. Maajid signed a confession, but cannot

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read Arabic. Reza Pankhurst signed a confession, but cannot read Arabic and needs glasses, which he did not have on him when he signed it. Hassan Risvi and Hirosho Ito both signed confessions but have been let go.

Finally, Mrs. Nawaz is very worried that, in the light of what has happened in the past, if her son is found innocent he could be released into the community, not allowed to travel to another country and be rearrested. That is a real fear of Mrs. Nawaz. I ask that the Minister have a word with the Prime Minister. If, at some stage, he is minded to intervene, I know that Maajid, his mother and all right-thinking citizens would be extremely grateful for the Prime Minister's intervention.

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