Michael Winterbottom’s forthcoming docu-drama, ‘The Road to Guantanamo’ tells the story of Asif Iqbal, Ruhel Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul – otherwise known as ‘The Tipton Three’, innocent men illegally detained in Guantanamo Bay. In the TV film, produced in association with Channel Four, 23 year old actor, Riz Ahmed plays Shafiq. The film, which is the first British production to premiere simultaneously on DVD, internet and television, has just received its World Premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival this weekend, where it received an overwhelming response. The three innocent men who inspired and helped develop the film accompanied acclaimed director Winterbottom and the crew to the Festival
Riz tells the LIP of his unwelcome treatment on arriving back in the UK.
“When our flight landed at Luton Airport from Berlin, Shafiq Rasul was stopped at the Immigration Desk. Soon after, I was detained and questioned. I was not told the reason for this.
The officer had initially questioned me extensively by the baggage claim, taking notes from my answers and from my passport. When I asked what all these questions were for, and whether this was an interview, she led me to a small interview room and said that it was “if I want it to be”.
I gave my basic details, explained about the festival, and the film being the reason for our visit to Berlin, which she said she believed. She said they need to stop us and the Tipton boys as anyone with “terror links” must be questioned – not that I had any necessarily, she said. I added that the Tipton Three didn’t either, as is widely documented. She then asked to go through the contents of my wallet. I felt uncomfortable about the ambiguities in the purpose of the detention and this proposed search, and so asked to speak to a lawyer.
I was denied access to legal advice, supposedly officially, under powers used to detain me. However the specific powers under which I was being held were deliberately made unclear by the detaining Special Branch officer. She gave me a blank copy of a “Section 7 of the Terrorism Act Detention Form” to explain why I couldn’t contact anyone. The form stated that someone detained under its powers can be prevented from contacting anyone, including legal advisors, for up to 48 hours, by a superintendent officer. I asked her whether she was a superintendent. Her reply was that I was not in fact being held under the powers outlined in this form. I was only being denied legal advice for the first hour of questioning, rather than 48hours. The reason why I had been given this form was now unclear.
She left the room, and said she was bringing in a male colleague to enforce the wallet search, since “a lot of Muslims don’t like dealing with women do they.” As she left I quickly called an academic lawyer, Ravinder Thukral, on my mobile.
He called back as she re-entered and spoke directly to the her on my phone. It was unclear now whether I was officially not allowed to call anyone, or whether she simply wouldn’t help me to do so but had no power to stop me. I took another two calls from lawyers during the interview. Each lawyer was unclear about the powers she was using to detain me, prevent me from getting full legal advice, and search my wallet. Her explanations were often unclear and seem to contradict her earlier explanations about the form and its relevance.
Under the threat of “prolonging” my detention, I cooperated in allowing her to go through my wallet. She took detailed notes on all its contents. All of my bankcard details were noted down, as were the details on other people’s business cards I had in my wallet. I was searched for objects that I might use to “hurt” the officers. However this took place about halfway through the interview after I had been with the interviewer alone for some time.
While searching through my wallet she asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guantanamo. She asked “Did you become an actor mainly to do films like this, you know, to publicise the struggles of Muslims?”.
She also asked me what my political views were, what I thought about “the Iraq war and everything else that was going on”, whether the Iraq war was “right” in my view.
She then asked me whether I would mind officers contacting me regularly in the future, “in case, for example, you might be in a café, and you overhear someone discussing illegal activities”.
I then took a call from Clive Stafford Smith who had been contacted by Ravinder Thukral, the first Lawyer I had contacted. He told me to wait a moment as he was on his way to Gareth Peirce’s (Human Rights Lawyer who helped secure the Tipton Three’s release) office, and she would call me in a moment. When I told the interviewer I’d have to take a call from Gareth Peirce’s office shortly, she said she wouldn’t allow me to. She started raising her voice, and behaving in a more urgent and aggressive way. She called in a male colleague who threateningly told me to give him the phone before gripping my hands and wrestling it from me. He then sat on a table in the room, grinned at me, winked and went through my phone. I protested, but he ignored me and continued to go through my phone. Then a third officer entered, and all three adopted very aggressive stances, threatening to take me to a police station, calling me a “fucker”, moving in very close to my face, pointing and shouting at me to “shut up and listen”. I complained at being called a fucker. The officer who still had my phone, and who had sworn at me, smiled at me and then said “now you’re making things up, no one called you that”.
I finally convinced the original officer to allow me to call Ms. Peirce’s office simply to ascertain the validity of the detention and the denial of full access to lawyers. She agreed on condition that if I tried to ask any further questions of the lawyer my phone would be taken away. As soon as I got through to the lawyer, she suddenly said “we’re done with you, you can go, whats the point in calling lawyers”. The lawyer on the phone told the officer (again, speaking directly to her on my phone) that he hadn’t heard of such powers existing in Section 7 of the TACT. She changed the subject and said that I was free to go now anyway and that I was now prolonging my detention by my own insistence on calling lawyers.
I took the opportunity, took the lawyer’s advice, and left the room. She advised me to go home and read up on anti terror legislation. I advised the officers in the room to learn some people skills.
I asked for any notes from the interview, and for names/ranks of the officers. I was denied both, and given a small, pink, police search record sheet – specifying that the purpose of the search was for “intelligence” and that I had been examined under the “TACT 2000”. The reverse of the sheet, “Sheet 2 “which as stated on the form itself “officers must also complete” was missing.”