Above: Moazzam Begg
Reactions to the sudden and surprising release of Moazzam Begg, who has been awaiting trial on charges of terrorism since March, have been predictably polarised.
5Pillarz is rejoicing at the news, and wheels out a spokesman from the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir to tell us all how shocking it is that some people associate Muslims with extremism. Puleeze:
“Meanwhile, Taji Mustafa, media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain said he was pleased to hear about the release of Moazzam Beg, after months of incarceration and separation from his family. He said: ‘Moazzam’s case, along with others arrested for traveling to Syria, has been used to manufacture a climate of opinion that the government will use to further its policies regarding Muslims in the UK, in particular for their support of causes dissenting from British foreign policy.'”
By contrast, The Henry Jackson website rather sulkily reminds its readers that Moazzam Begg still isn’t very nice even if he is innocent of these particular charges.
But some have been asking whether he really is innocent after all. A report in the Times hinted at some shady dealings behind the scenes:
“Neither police, prosecutors nor intelligence sources would comment on whether the sudden abandonment was linked to behind-the-scenes efforts to free British hostages held by Islamic State in Syria.”
This invitation to speculate in a way unflattering to Begg has been picked up very readily by those of an Islamosceptic bent, as a skim read below the line (of the Times article) will demonstrate.
However, although my own views on Begg are much closer to the Henry Jackson Society than to 5Pillarz, there doesn’t seem any evidence that Begg has been let off as part of a deal with ISIS, nor does it seem a particularly plausible theory.
It certainly doesn’t fit with the CPS response:
“The Crown Prosecution Service said that it had reviewed the case after being made aware of material previously not known to the police investigation. A spokesman added: “If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.”
He was charged back in March, well before any negotiations with ISIS over hostage release might have taken place.
It’s frustrating that there is so much mystery over Begg’s release – and to note that, in line with the stopped clock rule, 5Pillarz may have a point on this occasion. Here’s part of the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement:
” … we have said time and time again, that the best way to tackle extremism is to work with Muslim communities and have faith in our very British values of freedom, liberty and democracy.
“This means robust, intelligence-led policing that works with communities every step of the way and ensures full judicial oversight of the entire process. We should be proud of our commitment to due process, our tradition of free speech and anything that undermines them will only play into the hands of violent extremists.
“Today is a good day for British justice and the upholding of the rule of law in this case. What remains deplorable is the inclination of some of our political leaders to lapse into populist rhetoric when there are terrorism-related arrests, without waiting for due process.”
In the circumstances, unless some further evidence comes to light, that’s a fair comment. And, as Mary Dejevsky points out:
“At the very least this has been an egregious waste of public money.”