A Briton going on a “mission” to get a relative “out of a foreign jail” is one of those media staples that you see every now and again. These stories can be a little queasy – there’s often a whiff of chauvinism in the standard description of the “hellhole” foreign jail.
Except of course – sometimes it is like that. Here’s a version of that familiar story, but with a twist.
Last year a British man called Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a 68-year-old with a history of health problems, risked going to one of the most dangerous countries in the world – Iraq – to try to secure the release of his son ‘Omar who had been detained there.
Ramze is a dual Iraqi-UK national originally from Iraq, so he knows the country. But he’s also a refugee from Saddam’s regime who fled for his life nearly a decade ago. Going back there would not have been easy.
And the result after a few weeks in the country was that he himself was arrested (on 7 December) and taken to a secret prison and reportedly horribly tortured. Indeed both he and his son have now allegedly suffered this dreadful fate and both have apparently been made to sign confessions incriminating themselves as supposed members of armed groups in Iraq.
As a new Amnesty report shows, far from being the exception in Iraq, Ramze and ‘Omar’s plight is actually typical of the experience of “security” detainees in this benighted country. In fact there are a staggering 30,000 such detainees held without trial in Iraq, most – like Ramze and ‘Omar – Sunni Arabs, and some have been held ever since the US-led invasion seven years ago.
You might wonder why on earth the Iraqi authorities are doing this and one answer, depressingly enough, is extreme dysfunction and corruption.
When I met extremely Ramze’s extremely worried wife Rabiha last week she told me that the first word she had about Ramze’s whereabouts wasn’t until late March (ie three and half months since his disappearance) when out of the blue he phoned to say he was secretly imprisoned and that she should raise the alarm. In fact, she told me, what his jailers were trying to get him to do was ask her to get $50,000 to secure his release. Great justice system. (Makes you wonder why Iraqis would ever have the stomach for spoof Punk’d-style TV programmes like Put Him in Bucca, but hey, I guess that’s entertainment!)
Meanwhile, the UK government has sent its consular officials in to see Ramze and his situation is somewhat better. But he’s also been held for nine months without charge or trial and any trial he’s ever going to get is highly likely to be unfair (not least if it relies on his coerced confession).
Please take action here to press the foreign secretary William Hague to step up action for Ramze. Indeed, perhaps Mr Hague might like to go on a mercy mission to a foreign country…..
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