Home Secretary Theresa May announced a deal with Jordan in a bid to extradite Islamic cleric Abu Qatada and said the U.K. may withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure his deportation.
May’s attempts to remove the radical cleric from the U.K. have foundered amid repeated legal challenges. Qatada was granted a reprieve from deportation in November and later released on bail after a special immigration judge ruled he shouldn’t be extradited to face terrorism charges because it wasn’t clear if Jordanian authorities had obtained evidence through torture.
“I have signed a comprehensive mutual legal-assistance agreement with Jordan,” May told Parliament in London today. “The agreement also includes a number of fair-trial guarantees. I believe these guarantees will provide the courts with the assurance that Qatada will not face evidence that might have been obtained by torture in a retrial in Jordan.”
Qatada, whose real name is Mohammed Othman, was described by a judge in Spain as former al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe. He was re-arrested in March and is being held in Belmarsh prison in southeast London. The government was denied permission yesterday to have the U.K. Supreme Court review a ruling blocking his deportation.
The agreement today, which requires ratification by both nations, is a fresh bid to end the legal deadlock over Qatada’s deportation, though it will not mean he “will be on a plane to Jordan within days,” May said.
“Qatada will still have legal appeals available to him, and it will therefore be up to the courts to make the final decision,” she said. “That legal process may well still take many months, but in the meantime I believe Abu Qatada should remain behind bars.”
May suggested the U.K. may temporarily withdraw from the ECHR, thereby bypassing any moves to block deportation under the accord on the grounds he might be at risk from torture.
“I think we do need to look at the relationship we have with the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights,” she said. “We should be looking at all the options and that should include leaving the jurisdiction of the court altogether.”
Keith Vaz, an opposition Labour Party lawmaker and the chairman of Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, which holds May to account, said the attempts to deport Qatada are a “political and judicial farce.”
His Labour colleague David Winnick told lawmakers that “this saga is going to continue for some time” and urged May to “get this preacher of hatred out of this country.” Another Labour lawmaker, Ian Davidson, told May that the affair makes “the government look incompetent as well as impotent.”
May responded that attempts to deport Qatada have been going on since 2001, when Tony Blair’s Labour government was in power.
“It’s extraordinary that the home secretary is contemplating leaving a major human-rights treaty that Britain helped create just to make it easy to deport undesirable people,” Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch in London, said in an e-mailed statement. “If the government is serious about upholding the rule of law, it should gather the evidence to prosecute Qatada here in Britain, where he can get a fair trial.”