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Cause for celebration:  Hicham Yezza is free

Some good news:  I’ve just heard that Hicham Yezza has been freed from prison.

Hicham, a member of staff in the Faculty of Modern Languages at Nottingham University, was arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on 14 May 2008.

As reported on the website of the campaign to free him:

“The reason for the arrests – only revealed after several days – was apparently because Hich possessed on his office computer an open-source, edited version of a document called ‘The Al-Qaeda Training Manual‘, which Rizwaan had downloaded from the U.S. Department of Justice website and passed on to Hich, who was helping him draft his PhD proposal. It was later revealed that a more detailed version of the same document, is available to buy in book form on” 

Hicham was detained for six days without charge, suffering around twenty hours of interrogation, before his release on 20 May 2008.

Minutes after his ‘release’, Hicham was re-arrested under the Immigration Acts in a move rightly condemned as ‘highly political and suspect’ by his friends.  The Home Office intended to fast-track his deportation after he had lived in the UK for very nearly thirteen years.

During the next period of time he was moved from immigration detention centre to immigration detention centre around the UK, reportedly spending twenty-five hours in escort vans which those of us involved in supporting immigration detainees know is not anomalous but is typical of their treatment:  a practice known as ‘detainee ghosting’, it very frequently disrupts the detainee’s access to legal advice and representation, particularly when there are moves between different UK jurisdictions, not to mention exhausting and even traumatizing the disorientated detainee.

His deportation halted by a successful legal challenge, Hicham was charged in March 2009 with avoidance of immigration control under the Immigration Acts.  He was sentenced to nine months in prison.  At 2 AM this morning, news was circulated that Hicham is finally free!  Hopefully he will now be able to go back to doing what he loved before he was imprisoned; playing an active part in university life by serving on the University Senate and Student’s Union Executive Committee; nurturing languages and cultural exchange as President and Co-founder of the Arabic Society and editor of a magazine for international students and taking part in the arts as a founding member of an artistic troupe and actor at Nottingham Arts Theatre.

Just how free we all are, though, must remain deeply questionable:  what freedom do we have when a friend – who seems to me to tick all the boxes of being what many would consider to be a model citizen, constructively active in the educational, political and cultural life of the UK – can be not only denied the academic freedom of possessing or researching materials connected to global politics but actually detained for days without charge and interrogated for doing so?  What freedom is there here when the immigration acts are being used to subject individuals here to detention, 'ghosting' and lack of access to justice? And what freedom do we have when draconian laws cited by the government to ‘protect our borders’ are used in an apparently vindictive way to remove individuals’ freedom if not their very right to stay here?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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