Baluchistan leader on terror charges in London
A former Baluch Government Minister is to stand trial on terror charges in the UK, amid claims of British government collusion with the Pakistani dictator, Pervez Musharraf
An ex-MP and government minister from Pakistan, Hyrbyair Marri, has been released on bail after spending four months in London's high security anti-terrorist Belmarsh Prison.
Bail was granted by High Court judge, David Calvert-Smith QC, and Mr Marri was able to return to his west London home on Wednesday night, 16 April.
Mr Marri is due for trial in London at the Central Criminal Court in October, on charges under the Firearms Act and the Terrorism Act 2000. He is pleading not guilty and is currently under-going a series of pre-trial hearings.
Mr Marri is a former MP (from 1997 to 2002) and was the Minster for Construction and Works in the provincial assembly of the Pakistan region of Baluchistan from
1997 to 1998. He fled to Britain, fearing arrest, torture and possible assassination by the pro-western Pakistani dictator, Pervez Musharraf.
Mr Marri comes from a very distinguished Baluch family. He is a rather unlikely terrorist.
His father, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, was invited to London by the British government for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953, and attended as a guest of honour with other world leaders.
His uncle is Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the UN Special Representative to Sudan and the former Pakistan Ambassador to the United States, and his wife is the great grand daughter of the first Prime Minister of Iraq, Naqib Al Ashraaf Syed Abd ar-Rahman al-Qadri al Gillani, who governed from 1920-1922.
Mr Marri's brother, Balach Marri, was murdered on 21 November 2007 by the Pakistan army.
His other brother, Mehran Baluch, who lives in London and is the Baluch Representative to the UN Human Rights Council, was the subject of an extradition attempt by Pakistan last year on trumped up charges.
[See this Guardian newspaper report on the case, 28 March 2007.]
The actions against these three brothers look like a systematic attempt to target this family and crush three major voices of Baluch dissent.
I am supporting Mr Marri and his co-accused, another Baluch human rights activist, Faiz Baluch, who remains in Belmarsh Prison pending the finalisation of his bail conditions.
Everyone knows that last year President Musharraf was demanding the arrest and extradition of Baluch exiles in London.
That is what he is now in the process of getting. When he was in London to meet Gordon Brown in January 2008 Musharraf held a press conference for Pakistani journalists where he denounced Mr Marri as a "terrorist" and indicated that he was seeking and expecting the extradition of Mr Marri to Pakistan. He praised the British government and police for cooperating with his dictatorship.
If these men are extradited they will never get a fair trial and they could face a death sentence.
Britain and Pakistan have been in secret negotiations for a terrorist prisoner swap. The UK police want to extradite Rashid Rauf from Pakistan. They are keen to question him in connection with the 2006 plot to blow-up transatlantic airliners. Mr Rauf mysteriously escaped from police custody in Pakistan in December last year. He whereabouts are now unknown. Some people believe he is being protected by Islamist agents who have heavily infiltrated the Pakistani security services.
In return for the extradition of Mr Rauf, the Pakistani government has been demanding the extradition from Britain of several Baluch nationalists. When the UK failed to extradite to Pakistan Mr Marri's brother, Mehran, last year, the prisoner swap negotiations broke down and, it appears, Mr Rauf was allowed to escape.
I doubt the prosecution was initiated by the Metropolitan Police. It is very unlikely that officers, off their own bat, stumbled on an alleged terror plot by Mr Marri and Mr Baluch. More likely, the police in London were pressured and fed false information by Musharraf's military and intelligence services, which have long wanted to silence Mr Marri, Mr Baluch and other London-based Baluch exiles.
I know both the arrested men. They are Baluchistan nationalists and human rights activists. We worked together to expose Pakistan's persecution of the Baluch people. The defendants have never expressed to me any support or sympathy for terrorism. All our campaigns have been lawful and peaceful. I would be very surprised if either man was involved in any terror plot.
Both Mr Marri and Mr Baluch are well-known campaigners for the self-government of Baluchistan. A former British Protectorate, it was granted its independence in 1947 but was then invaded and forcibly annexed by Pakistan a few months later, in 1948. The Baluch people did not vote for incorporation. They were never given a choice. Ever since, Baluchistan has been under military occupation by Islamabad.
[See my Guardian newspaper website report about the last 60 years of Pakistani occupation.]
This occupation includes detention without trial, torture, extra-judicial executions and the bombing of civilian villages suspected of being sympathetic to the Baluch independence movement, often using US-supplied Cobra attack helicopters and F-16 fighter planes.
The flawed prosecution case against Mr Marri and Mr Baluch
I have been in court during the pre-trial hearings, respectively at Westminster Magistrate's Court and the Central Criminal Court. I heard first-hand the prosecution's outline evidence against the two men. I find it flimsy, circumstantial and flawed. Indeed, it is one of the most shoddy prosecutions I have ever witnessed in over 40 years of human rights campaigning.
When first setting out the case against Mr Marri the prosecution portrayed him in a less than flattering light. It made no mention of Mr Marri's esteemed family background and connections. Nor was there any mention of his public service as an MP and government minister. To me, this looked like an attempt to give the court a misleading impression of Mr Marri.
The prosecution claimed that Mr Marri and Mr Baluch had incited acts of terrorism but it provided no evidence of who had been incited or how they were incited. None of the documents read out in court constituted an incitement to terrorism. Most were website press reports and news releases, many of which are available on dozens of media websites.
Some of the allegations relate to the alleged viewing of "terrorist" websites. It is, however, not proven who visited these websites. Moreover, a landmark UK legal judgement on 13 February 2008 ruled that merely visiting and viewing such websites is not a crime.
The allegation that Mr Marri possessed a "firearm" weapon that could be used for terrorist purposes has now been revealed to be a self-defence pepper spray device, similar to the ones carried by many women to protect themselves against muggers and rapists.
It is said by friends that Mr Marri had acquired this pepper spray because he feared violent attack by Pakistani government agents on himself and his family. His fears are real and credible, given the recent kidnapping and assassination of Baluch nationalists by the Pakistan authorities.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) alleged that the men had hundreds of foreign credit cards. Their friends say these are phone top-up cards and phone credit cards, presumably for use when the men travel in support of their human rights work in Britain and other countries.
The CPS also claimed that Mr Marri had made over 160 foreign trips in the previous year, which amounts to one foreign trip every other day. A laughable, implausible feat. No evidence has been offered to corroborate this police assertion. Indeed, Mr Marri denies it categorically.
Prosecutors made a big issue of the fact that there was £18,000 in cash in Mr Marri's house. Possession of such a sum of money is not a crime. His family have explained that this money was sent from Pakistan to pay for his elderly mother's cancer treatment in the UK and for his children's school costs in this country. Receipts indicating such payments were presented to the court on 1 February this year.
The CPS cited Mr Marri's possession of up to 20 mobile phones. Some of these belonged to various family members and others were used to make secure calls to human rights campaigners inside Baluchistan. These campaigners are at risk of arrest by the Pakistani authorities who target Baluch activists for assassination, arrest and torture. Having dedicated mobile phones for each individual contact is one way to minimise the risk of calls being intercepted, traced and the persons phoned in Baluchistan being arrested.
During the pre-trial hearings, every time Mr Marri and Mr Baluch refute the allegations against them with reasonable explanations, the police and CPS come up with new vague, circumstantial allegations. The police and CPS then plead for more time to search computer hard drives and trace overseas contacts.
The latest allegation made is that the men have some unspecified sinister contacts in the Czech Republic. On this flimsiest of unsubstantiated claims, their on-going detention was authorised by the judge. This is the way the law now operates in this era of the "war on terror." Suspicion and circumstance are now enough to get you locked up as a terrorist suspect.
It is possible that the police know something about these men that I don't. But if they have been leading a secret double life and were engaged in a terrorist plot, where is the evidence?
Based on the purely circumstantial, uncorroborated evidence made against the two men thus far, it is outrageous that they were ever detained in maximum security conditions. They should have been granted bail last December.
Their case looks like a re-run of the Lofti Raissi fiasco. Mr Raissi was another innocent man who was falsely arrested and held on terror charges without any foundation. It took months before he was cleared. By then, his life was ruined.
Mr Marri and Mr Baluch are almost certainly innocent men caught up in a web of suspicion that has probably been woven by the notorious Pakistani intelligence services, the ISI.
Put bluntly: these arrests look like another stitch-up orchestrated by the Musharraf regime, which wants to crush those who speak out against Pakistan's murderous oppression of the Baluch people.
Watch this internet TV interview I did last year with Mehran Baluch, the Baluch representative at the UN Human Rights Council.