European court ends era of safe harbor for Abu Hamza
The European Court of Human Rights today ruled that extraditing radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza to the US would not violate his rights and is therefore permissible.
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The British press has often portrayed the European court as a set of pointy-headed do-gooders who want to mollycoddle terrorists. Some of that sentiment was evident in London's Daily Mail today, which wrote that the court’s “rag tag judges – many of whom have no judicial experience and are simply political appointments, academics or human rights enthusiasts – are also extremely adept at … making the law entirely as they see fit.”Skip to next paragraph
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Mark Ellis, executive director of the London-based International Bar Association, took issue with this characterization, saying the court’s judges are “serious and substantive from a legal point of view,” and argued the key issue is “whether you want to have a court where human rights issues are heard, or not.”
“I understand the frustrations of UK citizens who look at a situation where the prima facie evidence is there. [Hamza] looks guilty,” Mr. Ellis adds. “But the job of the court is to ensure that principles are upheld. That’s never a point that is going to be very popular, but it is necessary in a system of law. And Britain has signed onto the court.”
For years, Hamza’s legal team skillfully worked the British court system, to the dismay of British government officials, and defeated efforts to strip him of his British citizenship and make him a stateless person, which would have made him easier to extradite.
However, in 2008, Hamza appeared to have run out the clock on appeals – until the European court said it would investigate his case.
As an angry imam, Hamza benefited from the open climate in London before Sept. 11, when it was possible to call for jihad without punishment because of guarantees of religious free speech. With a large, traditional South Asian and Muslim population, the British capital became known as “Londonistan” and in some ways was the freest place in the world for an Islamic cleric to air his grievances about the turmoil in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
British officials have since cracked down, creating laws against hate speech that promotes violence and attempting to make extradition easier.
While some commentators today argued that the ECHR bent to political pressure from the US and UK, Ellis roundly dismissed the idea. "This court doesn't look to any outside pressure," he says.
British Home Secretary Theresa May congratulated the court for its decision and vowed to extradite the five prisoners. The prisoners can make a final appeal to a Grand Court in Europe, though few such appeals are heard.
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