White: UK Deportation of Yezza "Orwellian"

Ben White writes from Nottingham, UK with a guest editorial:

“I don’t like to use clichés, but this is really Orwellian”. So said my friend Hicham Yezza, speaking to me this weekend from Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre where he was being held awaiting deportation. Moved last night to Campsfield detention centre near Oxford, for “Hich”, the nightmare continues, almost two weeks after his initial arrest by Nottinghamshire police using ‘anti-terror’ powers.

Hich, a 30 year old Nottingham University employee and former PhD student, was arrested along with student Rizwaan Sabir. The two were detained without charge for six days before being released. Hich, however, was immediately re-arrested for an alleged immigration-related offence.

The original arrests came after Sabir, while researching his dissertation on “the American approach to ‘al-Qaida in Iraq’” downloaded an al-Qaida document from a US government website. He sent the 1,500 page file to Hicham in order to save on printing costs; and after a tip off, police arrested both men, raided their homes and seized personal items.

Hicham was initially told his immigration hearing would be held in July. Inexplicably, however, the charges were suddenly dropped as the Home Office moved for an emergency deportation. Not only is Hicham facing the possibility of losing the life he has built for himself in Nottingham over 13 years, but there is also the worry that on arrival in Algeria, he will be at risk of further human rights violations given the circumstances of his deportation.

Concern – and suspicion – has been expressed by Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson, who wrote in a letter to Minister Liam Byrne:

“I can see no reason for an emergency deportation of Mr Hicham Yessa other than to cover the embarrassment of Police and Intelligence services…To race him out of the country will only provoke widespread protests against an arbitrary deportation with no right to a proper hearing. Mr Hicham Yessa was scheduled for a hearing on 16th July 2008. I can see no reason why you should race this forward and would urge you to revert to the original timescale with which a proper hearing and proper representations can be made.”

This is not the only suspicious aspect of the whole affair. Hicham was an influential member of the peace movement, and during the investigation, police apparently “‘regularly attempted to collate information about student activism and peaceful campaigning’”, including “numerous questions about the student peace magazine ‘Ceasefire’”, of which Hicham was the editor.

The worrying wider context, threats to academic freedom, as well as the latest government attempts to increase the length of time people can be held without charge or trial.

For now, there is still every chance that Hicham’s deportation can be prevented. A campaign is well under way, which needs support and donations; you can join a Facebook group, as well as contact your own MP and the Home Office. On Wednesday, meanwhile, there will be a protest about the arrests themselves in Nottingham.

Ben White
Nottingham, UK

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