The Islamic cleric known as Abu Qatada can’t be deported from the U.K. to Jordan to stand trial on terrorism charges until judges at the European Court of Human Rights decide whether to again take up his case, the court said.
The Jordanian, whose real name is Omar Othman, won a ruling Jan. 17 from the Strasbourg, France-based court blocking his deportation on the grounds Jordan may use evidence it gained from torture against him.
That ruling led to Qatada’s release from jail in England. He was re-arrested yesterday and his lawyers filed the latest appeal at 11 p.m., the ECHR said today in an e-mailed statement. U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May traveled to Jordan last month, where she said she received assurances from the government Qatada would receive a fair trial in a civilian court, with the right to call witnesses, and therefore he would be deported.
“We are absolutely clear that the deadline to appeal had expired,” May told BBC News television today. “This is a delaying tactic.”
The cleric “has no right to refer the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, since the three-month deadline to do so lapsed at midnight on Monday,” the Home Office said in an e-mailed statement. The U.K. said the deadline to appeal the Jan. 17 ruling was April 16.
The rights court declined to comment on the British government’s view, a spokeswoman said in an e-mail, noting whether the request was timely was a question the Grand Chamber panel will have to decide upon.
The cleric, who has denied links to al-Qaeda, was described by a judge in Spain as its former leader Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe. A British man was kidnapped and murdered in Niger in 2009 by the terror group’s North African network, which threatened to kill him if the U.K. didn’t release Qatada.
Qatada’s filing means the “injunction against removal remains in force,” the court said. The so-called referral request goes to a panel, which decides whether the court’s Grand Chamber will hear the request. Referral requests were granted in just 5 percent of the cases since the judges’ panel was formed in 1998, according to court figures.
While the court agreed with Qatada’s argument that his right to a fair trial would be violated, it ruled that deportation wouldn’t breach his rights against torture or the right to a prompt trial.
Risk of Torture
Qatada argued in his request that the court was wrong to decide that he himself would not be at risk of torture if returned to Jordan, according to the court.
Calls to Angus McCullough and Gareth Peirce, U.K. lawyers who have represented Qatada, weren’t immediately returned.
He was granted bail by a British court in February and freed from a high-security prison under a 22-hour curfew.
Qatada’s current conviction in Jordan, following a trial held in his absence, will be quashed on his arrival. He will be retried in line with Jordanian laws, the country’s minister of state for media affairs, Rakan Majali was quoted as saying by the state-run Petra news agency. “The Jordanian constitution ensures a fair trial,” he said.
The ECHR ruling is one of a number that have angered Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, which argues that European judges are interfering too much in British justice and political decisions. Cameron called in January for changes to the court to reduce that interference. A meeting of the 47-nation Council of Europe in Brighton, southern England, begins today to discuss the future of the tribunal.
The court ruled last week that Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Islamic cleric jailed for inciting murder and racial hatred, can be extradited from Britain to the U.S., dismissing his argument that prison conditions there would violate his human rights.