UK’s ‘Campaign of Intimidation’ Continues With Detention of Human Rights Activist

Baraa Shiban giving testimony at a congressional hearing on the U.S. drone program. (screengrab)In “part of a worsening campaign of intimidation,” UK officials have again made a controversial use of the country’s anti-terrorism legislation to detain someone at an airport.

On Monday, human rights activist and member of Yemen’s National Dialogue Baraa Shiban was detained at Gatwick Airport and held under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.

Just over a month ago, David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained for 9 hours at London’s Heathrow Aiport under the same law.

Shiban also works for Reprieve, a UK charity that “delivers justice and saves lives, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.” In a press release reporting the news of Shiban’s detention, the group also explains that it “works to support the relatives of civilian victims of drone strikes who are seeking legal redress.”

Shiban has also been an outspoken critic of the U.S. drone war. At a May 8 congressional hearing on the U.S. drone program, Shiban said that the strikes not only cause civilian casualties, but that “Every lethal mistake the U.S. makes is kerosene for an insurgency.”

At Gatwick, officials threatened to detain Shiban for 9 hours, and was told, “Your organization has obviously been causing a lot of problems to your country. The relations between your government and the UK are vital for us.”

Following his one-and-a-half hour detention, Shiban stated, “I was stunned when the border agent said I was being held simply because I came from Yemen. It was even more shocking when he spent the entire time asking me about my human rights work and Reprieve, the charity I work for. Is the UK the kind of place that human rights activists are fair game for detention, intimidation, and interrogation?”

Intimidation is exactly what it is, stated Reprieve.

“This is part of a worsening campaign of intimidation of human rights workers going on at the UK border – especially if they are critical of the so-called ‘war on terror,'” stated Cori Crider, Strategic Director at Reprieve. “If there were any doubt the UK were abusing its counter-terrorism powers to silence critics, this ends it.”

In an op-ed in Al Jazeera earlier this month, Shiban wrote:

Drone strikes in Yemen might seem like an appealing, quick-fix option for Obama. But with every death, the number in al-Qaeda’s ranks increase. Although [Yemen’s President] Hadi likes to assure the US that he gives the green light to these strikes, the reality is that he has no mandate to do so.

In fact, Yemen’s people overwhelmingly oppose the strikes. Last month, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference – a body formed from across the political spectrum to draft Yemen’s new constitution and to solve its current challenges – decided by a 90 percent supermajority that the use of drones in Yemen should be banned. The main reason behind the broad support for such a law is that National Dialogue members know that the current policy in fighting al-Qaeda is totally counter-productive.

Yemeni civil society has been struggling for the past two years to build a foundation for the rule of law – a process that Obama claims to support – yet each drone strike is a stab in the back and undermines its efforts. Yemen needs the US to respect the will of the Yemeni people and the principles it has been advocating for decades.


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