Hicham Yezza’s real “crime” was to help a student with his research into Al Qaeda and then to campaign against his arbitrary arrest and detention by the police, called in by his employers, Nottingham University. A nine-month jail sentence he is now serving for immigration “irregularities” is nothing less than the state’s revenge for failing to sustain the original ludicrous terrorism arrest.
Hicham was arrested and held last May for a period of six days, alongside student Rizwaan Sabir. Hicham had downloaded an Al Qaeda training manual from the US government's website. It was material for Sabir's MA dissertation, which didn’t prevent university authorities assuming the worst and calling in the police.
Sabir’s home was raided and he was deeply distressed by events. In the end, no charges could be made and the pair were released. But with egg all over their faces, the police tried to justify their actions and held Hicham, an Algerian national, on immigration charges pending fast-track deportation. This failed following a strong campaign and legal challenges and Hicham, who edits the magazine Ceasefire, spoke out at conferences about the attacks on human rights in Britain.
Not giving up, immigration authorities then charged Hicham with "securing avoidance of enforcement action by deceptive means". This, don’t forget, was someone employed by the university, a PhD student and a well-known figure on campus. As his lawyer Caroline Bradley, said: "He did not in any way try to hide his identity and, if he had done things properly, he would have been granted in all likelihood the right to stay in this country." Although we are talking technicalities here, the judge threw the book at Hicham and he is now in prison.
Hicham’s jailing expresses not only how the spurious “war on terror” sweeps up innocent victims on a daily basis – Binyam Mohamed’s “rendition” and torture is just one example – but how this dovetails with New Labour’s racist and inhuman immigration/deportation policies. These are deployed to court the support of right-wing newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express – and to provide business for the private sector.
Since 1993 there has been a 10-fold increase in detention centre places. From a total of 10 immigration detention centres in the UK, seven are managed by private firms. They are beset with welfare problems, social unrest and high rates of suicide. Plans for an 800-place centre near Bullingdon prison in Oxfordshire will make it the largest detention centre of its kind in Europe.
Every year, 2,000 children are detained in contravention of commitments made in Parliament. In a recent case, a court was told that a one-year-old baby and an eight-year-old child from the Democratic Republic of Congo were deeply traumatised after immigration officers twice raided their West Midlands home. They were taken to Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire and held for 57 days. Two months later, the family home was raided for a second time leading to a further three-day unlawful detention at the same centre. The court awarded the former detainees £150,000 in damages.
With even Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson calling for an "earned" amnesty for migrants without papers – up to 75% of the estimated 725,000 total live in the capital – New Labour’s cynical use of the immigration card is even more despicable. As unemployment mounts and the far-right BNP challenges New Labour for votes, the press hysteria is bound to intensify. That’s why A World to Win demands the release of Hicham Yezza, who is a political prisoner, and supports the employment and human rights of ALL workers in Britain, with or without papers.
You can write to Hicham at:
Hicham Yezza XP266 06.12.1977
AWTW communications editor