Baraa Shiban writes: On Monday night I was held and questioned at an airport because of my work investigating western counter-terrorism abuses in Yemen. But this did not happen in Sanaa or at the hands of some tyrannical regime. It happened at Gatwick. British officials interrogated me under the controversial schedule 7 provision of the Terrorism Act 2000 – the same provision recently used to chilling effect to detain David Miranda.
Not satisfied with clamping down on attempts to report on blanket surveillance and the “war on terror”, the UK government seems to have branched out to people like me – activists working to uncover and prevent such abuses.
I have visited the UK before without incident. I have long admired British culture – I spent part of my education in Wales. This time I came at the invitation of Chatham House to speak at a seminar on Yemen. Standing at passport control, bleary eyed from the long flight, I expected another routine trip.
The border agent asked what my job is. When I explained I was the Yemen project co-ordinator for London-based legal charity Reprieve he said, “Sir, please come with me. We have a Terrorism Act and I have some questions I need to ask you.”
I was then taken away from the desk and interrogated for over an hour. The suited man quizzed me about my political opinions. When I suggested that these should have no bearing on whether I am allowed into the country, the agent threatened to hold me for the maximum extent of his powers. “I am authorised to detain you for up to nine hours,” he said. “We have only been here for an hour, but we can be here for up to nine. So you understand what this can lead to.”
He took my Reprieve business card and disappeared. When he returned – I would guess having made use of a computer and a popular search engine – he suggested he had detained me not merely because I was from Yemen, but also because of Reprieve’s work investigating and criticising the efficacy of US drone strikes in my country.
A telling exchange followed: “So,” he asked, “does your organisation have anything to do with terrorism in Yemen?”
I replied, “My organisation addresses counter-terrorism abuses inside the country.”
“Exactly!” He said. “Why doesn’t your organisation do something about the terrorism that happens in your country, instead of focusing on the counter-terrorism abuses?”
What could I reply? Of course I oppose terrorism. But I also oppose the secret air war in my country – waged by the US, apparently with covert support from the UK and others. [Continue reading…]