Talha Ahsan's long ordeal set to end following US terror sentence

Hamja, dad Syed Abu and mum Farida Ahsan speaking from the family home in Mitcham

Hamja, dad Syed Abu and mum Farida Ahsan speaking from the family home in Mitcham

First published in News by

“I hope Theresa May will one day say sorry to my mum for the needless agony she caused her.”

That is the impassioned plea of a Tooting man whose brother with Asperger’s was extradited to the US in 2012, after six years in a British prison without charge.

Wandsworth Guardian:

Talha Ahsan

After 18 months of solitary confinement in a US death row prison without trial, including time in a cell still containing blood from an inmate’s self-mutilation, British citizen Talha Ahsan accepted a deal with US prosecutors to plead guilty to “providing material support to terrorism”, in  exchange for a shorter sentence – a deal his lawyers recommended as the only way out.

The charges relate to Mr Ahsan’s brief admin work for a Muslim activist website. A British court has since failed to find evidence the site was a terrorist-supporting organisation.

Insisting on his innocence, Mr Ahsan’s lawyers and family point to the remarks of sentencing judge Janet C Hall, who spoke of him as “peaceful” and “tolerant” and denied the prosecution’s final demand for 15 years by sentencing him to time served.

They also point out that British politicians criticised the US plea bargain system as unjust and coercive, including Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, and Conservative MP David Davies.

Now in American immigration custody, Talha Ahsan will be home later this month. His family do not know exactly when, but are preparing to pick up the pieces of their family life, and rebuild it together.

His brother Hamja Ahsan was a 24-year-old art curator when he came downstairs one morning in 2006 to find his mother crying. “They’ve taken him away,” she said. 

What followed was an eight-year nightmare of endless prison visits, time with lawyers, public campaigning, the agony of not knowing what would happen and the stress of constant worry.

In those eight years, Hamja’s life has changed beyond recognition.

Worrying that his parents were elderly and frail, he took on the responsibility of being a public advocate for his brother.

Wandsworth Guardian:

Teaching himself law,  the complexities of the American judicial and prison systems and public speaking, he launched a tireless campaign to get justice for his brother, and was shortlisted for the Liberty Human Rights Award 2013.

Hamja said: “I was a very shy and socially awkward person actually, and now I’m regarded as a public speaker on civil liberties and have been on every media station.”

Travelling across the UK, Hamja has organised protests, spoken at human rights events, performed the poetry his brother writes in prison, given countless media interviews and even sought out celebrities to tell them about the case.

His parents are immensely proud of what he was achieved. 

His father, Abu Ahsan, 75, said: “Hamja has sacrificed his life, really.”

His efforts led to strong support from other campaigners, public figures, writers and musicians who have spoken at his events, expressed their support, written to Talha in prison, and promoted and published his poetry.

These include the Hillsborough campaigners, Tooting MP Sadiq Khan and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, journalist Owen Jones, academic Noam Chomsky and novelist AL Kennedy.

Ordinary people have also followed the campaign, the family getting hundreds of congratulatory letters after the result, from as far afield as Venezuela and Australia.

A rally outside the Home Office on August 17 was attended by a diverse group of supporters, from CND campaigners to students, from musicians and writers to religious leaders and local politicians.

Speaking of his campaigning years, Hamja said: “I’ve had a total transformation of my personality – I’ve become a better person a 100 times over.”

However, despite these positive experiences, the uncertainty and strain of the past eight years has been extremely hard for the Ahsan family.

Hamja said: “The extradition nightmare has brought us to the verge of mental collapse. You live in a state of dread and uncertainty.

“Talha’s detention without trial seemed to go on forever and there was no light at the end of the tunnel.”

His mother, Farida Ahsan, 69, who is disabled by severe arthritis, has said she cannot rest until her elder son is back home.

Things became worse after his extradition in 2012. The family knew they had lost the appeal, but only found out his plane had left after seeing it on the news. They had booked a prison visit to see him that weekend.

Wandsworth Guardian:

This hurt even more when they saw Theresa May talking about the extradition of their son and other suspects at that year’s Conservative Party conference, saying: “Wasn’t it great to say goodbye?”

Hamja has experienced severe depression due to the desperation of the situation and the pressure of his responsibilities. 

He said: “There were times when I felt like drinking myself to death, so it has been difficult.

“But I don’t cry or anything. My mum cries a lot, even when the BBC comes to the house, so I have to stay level-headed.”

What has pulled him through is the support and stories of other justice campaigners, such as the Hillsborough campaigners and the family of Gary McKinnon, the hacking suspect who also has Asperger’s, whose extradition to the US was blocked by Theresa May after a heavily-publicised campaign.

“All the extradition families are good friends now,” said Hamja. “There’s not like a therapy programme for people who have been abused by the state, so that was what we did.”

Mr McKinnon’s mother Janis has even written a poem for Talha, in which she says: “We are deeply saddened that you are alone/thousands of miles from home/and pray that we will soon be back in the UK where you belong.”

Now that this return is really happening, his family are looking to the future.

Mr Ahsan has several poetry readings scheduled, and has told his family he wants to get driving lessons. Both brothers are also eager to start PhDs.

Their father is keen to support their studies, but also harbours other parental hopes.”I hope both of them will get married,” he said.

Wandsworth Guardian:

Mr Ahsan before his detention 

While Hamja is optimistic about both their futures, he does not feel he can relax yet. Not only because he wants to keep campaigning against injustices he feels are getting worse. He also despises the “extremist” caricature of his brother that he argues his own government promoted – and worries that his plea bargain conviction will cement that picture in people’s minds.

Born into a cosmopolitan Bengali family, Hamja, an atheist while growing up, remembers his brother as both a pious Muslim and a curious and open-minded young man with a love for feminist punk rock and the poetry of Ted Hughes.

An award-winning poet since he has been in prison, Mr Ahsan has also forged friendships with people around the world from his cell, some of whom, including AL Kennedy, felt so strongly they wrote to the sentencing judge about his good character.

The apology Hamja wants from the Home Secretary is about his mother’s pain. But it is also about recognising his brother’s humanity, acknowledging that he is more than a forgotten name on an extradition list, to be used as a political football and misleadingly associated with terrorism in the minds of the public.

For this family, an apology would be an acknowledgment from the government that the Talha Ahsan they condemned to solitary confinement on death row, without seeing any evidence is a son, a brother, a friend and a person.

“Imagine how it feels when the person you shared a bunk bed with is now in solitary confinement,” his brother said.

Comments (23)

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9:25am Wed 20 Aug 14

tjames says...

i wonder how long it will take him to find gainful employment
i wonder how long it will take him to find gainful employment tjames
  • Score: -10

9:25am Wed 20 Aug 14

tjames says...

sk-the enemy within
sk-the enemy within tjames
  • Score: -15

10:26am Wed 20 Aug 14

edstar says...

tjames wrote:
sk-the enemy within
yes you are
[quote][p][bold]tjames[/bold] wrote: sk-the enemy within[/p][/quote]yes you are edstar
  • Score: 14

12:50pm Wed 20 Aug 14

nugas50 says...

Why are all moslems good boys according to their families. Wake up Britain the enemy is within.
Why are all moslems good boys according to their families. Wake up Britain the enemy is within. nugas50
  • Score: -22

12:58pm Wed 20 Aug 14

edstar says...

nugas50 wrote:
Why are all moslems good boys according to their families. Wake up Britain the enemy is within.
so where is the evidence? Why hold someone for years without a trial or charges?

I think its you who needs to wake up!
[quote][p][bold]nugas50[/bold] wrote: Why are all moslems good boys according to their families. Wake up Britain the enemy is within.[/p][/quote]so where is the evidence? Why hold someone for years without a trial or charges? I think its you who needs to wake up! edstar
  • Score: 25

2:47pm Wed 20 Aug 14

alroutemaster says...

Why is he being allowed back into the country? He is a convicted terrorist and he is not British anyway. His "British" passport should be revoked and if his family want to see him they can all go live in one of the shiteholes that he supports outside of the UK.
Why is he being allowed back into the country? He is a convicted terrorist and he is not British anyway. His "British" passport should be revoked and if his family want to see him they can all go live in one of the shiteholes that he supports outside of the UK. alroutemaster
  • Score: -31

4:18pm Wed 20 Aug 14

fylfot says...

Excellent news that he is returning. It represents a horrendous attack on civil liberties that he was kept for so long. Well done to his family and all those who campaigned so hard to get him returned.
Excellent news that he is returning. It represents a horrendous attack on civil liberties that he was kept for so long. Well done to his family and all those who campaigned so hard to get him returned. fylfot
  • Score: 21

5:39pm Wed 20 Aug 14

alroutemaster says...

fylfot wrote:
Excellent news that he is returning. It represents a horrendous attack on civil liberties that he was kept for so long. Well done to his family and all those who campaigned so hard to get him returned.
He's admitted being a terrorist sympathiser, should be executed. He's NOT wanted back here, except by his fellow traveller terrorist sympathisers.
[quote][p][bold]fylfot[/bold] wrote: Excellent news that he is returning. It represents a horrendous attack on civil liberties that he was kept for so long. Well done to his family and all those who campaigned so hard to get him returned.[/p][/quote]He's admitted being a terrorist sympathiser, should be executed. He's NOT wanted back here, except by his fellow traveller terrorist sympathisers. alroutemaster
  • Score: -23

2:49pm Thu 21 Aug 14

wobwoba says...

alroutemaster you are so full of impotent rage. there there.
alroutemaster you are so full of impotent rage. there there. wobwoba
  • Score: 6

5:12pm Thu 21 Aug 14

sairia says...

such good news for his family. what talha has been through is horrible, and a complete assault on the notions of human rights and a fair trial. well done to his family and to hamja for fighting so hard for this.
such good news for his family. what talha has been through is horrible, and a complete assault on the notions of human rights and a fair trial. well done to his family and to hamja for fighting so hard for this. sairia
  • Score: 15

6:01pm Thu 21 Aug 14

mui91X80 says...

Good, sensitive article.
I hope Hamja and Talha get their Ph.Ds, and I'm sure they will. I know their IQs are exponentially bigger than the people who say a young man should be "executed" or exiled for working a couple of months as a mail admin for a website that should have had first amendment protection. The judge made a decent decision, even thought the plea bargain was admittedly forced and probably left her hands tied. Now bring Talha home!
Good, sensitive article. I hope Hamja and Talha get their Ph.Ds, and I'm sure they will. I know their IQs are exponentially bigger than the people who say a young man should be "executed" or exiled for working a couple of months as a mail admin for a website that should have had first amendment protection. The judge made a decent decision, even thought the plea bargain was admittedly forced and probably left her hands tied. Now bring Talha home! mui91X80
  • Score: 10

7:33pm Thu 21 Aug 14

AuntieB says...

He is not a convicted terrorist - he entered a plea bargain, which 97% of US prisoners do as it is the only way to avoid a very long sentence. The judge said it was clear that he was a danger to no-one. In this instance an American judge showed more integrity and compassion than the British justice system, which, in the shape of Theresa May, showed only cruel vindictiveness and Islamophobia (having spared Gary McKinnon from extradition who has the same condition as Talha). Alroutemaster has much to say but knows very little. Talha is as British as I am and I will be delighted for him and his family when he finally returns home. He should never have spent one night in prison.
He is not a convicted terrorist - he entered a plea bargain, which 97% of US prisoners do as it is the only way to avoid a very long sentence. The judge said it was clear that he was a danger to no-one. In this instance an American judge showed more integrity and compassion than the British justice system, which, in the shape of Theresa May, showed only cruel vindictiveness and Islamophobia (having spared Gary McKinnon from extradition who has the same condition as Talha). Alroutemaster has much to say but knows very little. Talha is as British as I am and I will be delighted for him and his family when he finally returns home. He should never have spent one night in prison. AuntieB
  • Score: 13

7:46pm Thu 21 Aug 14

islandgorilla says...

Think I'll take the word of the American judge who actually heard his case and the British court that failed to find any links to terrorism, rather than the kneejerk teeth-gnashing of bigoted peons with axes to grind. This guy's not a threat.

Interesting article. Didn't know someone could be held for six years without charge. That's some Kafka-level horror right there. Theresa May has a lot to answer for.
Think I'll take the word of the American judge who actually heard his case and the British court that failed to find any links to terrorism, rather than the kneejerk teeth-gnashing of bigoted peons with axes to grind. This guy's not a threat. Interesting article. Didn't know someone could be held for six years without charge. That's some Kafka-level horror right there. Theresa May has a lot to answer for. islandgorilla
  • Score: 10

9:27pm Thu 21 Aug 14

felixfel7 says...

islandgorilla wrote:
Think I'll take the word of the American judge who actually heard his case and the British court that failed to find any links to terrorism, rather than the kneejerk teeth-gnashing of bigoted peons with axes to grind. This guy's not a threat.

Interesting article. Didn't know someone could be held for six years without charge. That's some Kafka-level horror right there. Theresa May has a lot to answer for.
Absolutely. Excellently put.
[quote][p][bold]islandgorilla[/bold] wrote: Think I'll take the word of the American judge who actually heard his case and the British court that failed to find any links to terrorism, rather than the kneejerk teeth-gnashing of bigoted peons with axes to grind. This guy's not a threat. Interesting article. Didn't know someone could be held for six years without charge. That's some Kafka-level horror right there. Theresa May has a lot to answer for.[/p][/quote]Absolutely. Excellently put. felixfel7
  • Score: 6

10:52pm Thu 21 Aug 14

Clear window says...

Great news to hear Talha will be home soon. Another injustice but at least Talha's family are nearly at the end of the nightmare. I hope they find peace.
Great news to hear Talha will be home soon. Another injustice but at least Talha's family are nearly at the end of the nightmare. I hope they find peace. Clear window
  • Score: 8

9:40am Fri 22 Aug 14

Mind the gap says...

alroutemaster wrote:
Why is he being allowed back into the country? He is a convicted terrorist and he is not British anyway. His "British" passport should be revoked and if his family want to see him they can all go live in one of the shiteholes that he supports outside of the UK.
Just as well he's not a cycling terrorist eh alroutemaster, that would completely blow your mind.

Anyone / thing else you want to put on your hate list?
[quote][p][bold]alroutemaster[/bold] wrote: Why is he being allowed back into the country? He is a convicted terrorist and he is not British anyway. His "British" passport should be revoked and if his family want to see him they can all go live in one of the shiteholes that he supports outside of the UK.[/p][/quote]Just as well he's not a cycling terrorist eh alroutemaster, that would completely blow your mind. Anyone / thing else you want to put on your hate list? Mind the gap
  • Score: 0

9:52am Fri 22 Aug 14

alroutemaster says...

Mind the gap wrote:
alroutemaster wrote:
Why is he being allowed back into the country? He is a convicted terrorist and he is not British anyway. His "British" passport should be revoked and if his family want to see him they can all go live in one of the shiteholes that he supports outside of the UK.
Just as well he's not a cycling terrorist eh alroutemaster, that would completely blow your mind.

Anyone / thing else you want to put on your hate list?
I don't hate cyclists, just the ****hole ones. True I don't like mussies, especiially terrorist ones, who I do hate. I suppose you could add homos to my list of pet hates, but no doubt I could get over it......!
[quote][p][bold]Mind the gap[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]alroutemaster[/bold] wrote: Why is he being allowed back into the country? He is a convicted terrorist and he is not British anyway. His "British" passport should be revoked and if his family want to see him they can all go live in one of the shiteholes that he supports outside of the UK.[/p][/quote]Just as well he's not a cycling terrorist eh alroutemaster, that would completely blow your mind. Anyone / thing else you want to put on your hate list?[/p][/quote]I don't hate cyclists, just the ****hole ones. True I don't like mussies, especiially terrorist ones, who I do hate. I suppose you could add homos to my list of pet hates, but no doubt I could get over it......! alroutemaster
  • Score: -6

12:16pm Fri 22 Aug 14

Mind the gap says...

alroutemaster wrote:
Mind the gap wrote:
alroutemaster wrote:
Why is he being allowed back into the country? He is a convicted terrorist and he is not British anyway. His "British" passport should be revoked and if his family want to see him they can all go live in one of the shiteholes that he supports outside of the UK.
Just as well he's not a cycling terrorist eh alroutemaster, that would completely blow your mind.

Anyone / thing else you want to put on your hate list?
I don't hate cyclists, just the ****hole ones. True I don't like mussies, especiially terrorist ones, who I do hate. I suppose you could add homos to my list of pet hates, but no doubt I could get over it......!
Homos lol. Did you go to the Roy Chubby Brown school of charm.
[quote][p][bold]alroutemaster[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Mind the gap[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]alroutemaster[/bold] wrote: Why is he being allowed back into the country? He is a convicted terrorist and he is not British anyway. His "British" passport should be revoked and if his family want to see him they can all go live in one of the shiteholes that he supports outside of the UK.[/p][/quote]Just as well he's not a cycling terrorist eh alroutemaster, that would completely blow your mind. Anyone / thing else you want to put on your hate list?[/p][/quote]I don't hate cyclists, just the ****hole ones. True I don't like mussies, especiially terrorist ones, who I do hate. I suppose you could add homos to my list of pet hates, but no doubt I could get over it......![/p][/quote]Homos lol. Did you go to the Roy Chubby Brown school of charm. Mind the gap
  • Score: 4

2:32pm Fri 22 Aug 14

alroutemaster says...

Mindthegap: sorry, perhaps I should have typed the full,correct term which is homosexuals. There's certainly nothing gay about being a poof!
Mindthegap: sorry, perhaps I should have typed the full,correct term which is homosexuals. There's certainly nothing gay about being a poof! alroutemaster
  • Score: -5

3:21pm Fri 22 Aug 14

Sarah Cox says...

Excellent article. Local journalism at it's best.
Excellent article. Local journalism at it's best. Sarah Cox
  • Score: 3

1:45am Sat 23 Aug 14

QPR4Me says...

As mentioned in the article, Tooting's apologist for an MP is busily supporting yet another "innocent" who admitted being involved in terrorism.
When will Tooting's population understand the need to get rid of Sadiq Khan before he does real damage through his blind support for criminals, just because they happen to be Muslim?
As mentioned in the article, Tooting's apologist for an MP is busily supporting yet another "innocent" who admitted being involved in terrorism. When will Tooting's population understand the need to get rid of Sadiq Khan before he does real damage through his blind support for criminals, just because they happen to be Muslim? QPR4Me
  • Score: -5

8:02am Sat 23 Aug 14

alroutemaster says...

QPR4Me wrote:
As mentioned in the article, Tooting's apologist for an MP is busily supporting yet another "innocent" who admitted being involved in terrorism.
When will Tooting's population understand the need to get rid of Sadiq Khan before he does real damage through his blind support for criminals, just because they happen to be Muslim?
The Islamic Republic of Tooting is another of London's multicultural shiteholes, along with Tower Hamlets and Lambeth. It's a disease like ebola, it's spreading and there is no cure, unless you stand up and fight it.
[quote][p][bold]QPR4Me[/bold] wrote: As mentioned in the article, Tooting's apologist for an MP is busily supporting yet another "innocent" who admitted being involved in terrorism. When will Tooting's population understand the need to get rid of Sadiq Khan before he does real damage through his blind support for criminals, just because they happen to be Muslim?[/p][/quote]The Islamic Republic of Tooting is another of London's multicultural shiteholes, along with Tower Hamlets and Lambeth. It's a disease like ebola, it's spreading and there is no cure, unless you stand up and fight it. alroutemaster
  • Score: -8

12:17pm Mon 25 Aug 14

nugas50 says...

edstar you are the problem you cannot see how the aliens in your country are taking advantage of you and using it to gain a Muslim foot hold with all the baggage that they carry. One day you will be sorry when London looks like Kabul with women walking around fully covered with only the eyes looking out of a slit in the head dress.
edstar you are the problem you cannot see how the aliens in your country are taking advantage of you and using it to gain a Muslim foot hold with all the baggage that they carry. One day you will be sorry when London looks like Kabul with women walking around fully covered with only the eyes looking out of a slit in the head dress. nugas50
  • Score: -3
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