In the last decade and a half, Moazzam Begg has been arrested, tortured and held in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp until his final release in 2005. Since his return to the UK he has been deprived his passport twice.
Moazzam Begg is a British national, born in the UK where he currently works and resides with his family. Moazzam had his passport removed twice in the last decade. The first time the authorities cancelled his passport was in 2005 after his release from Guantanamo Bay. Back then, the move was executed under the Royal Prerogative and was a rare measure with only a handful of passports cancelled over several decades. As the government later escalated removals of passports, the law subsequently changed to make this practice easier to execute. The reason for his passport deprivation was that he posed a threat to the UK or its allies if he were to travel. But since it was based on information obtained in Guantanamo, Moazzam and his legal team made the case that this information was obtained under torture and it currently prohibit him from doing his job which involved frequent speaking engagement, the government issued him with a new passport in 2008. For the next five years, during which he travelled for speaking engagements and various international work, he was often stopped and questioned upon re-entry to the UK under Schedule 7.
A privilege, not a right
The second time Moazzam’s passport was removed was in December 2013, when he was returning from a visit to South Africa that coincided with the death of Nelson Mandela. Begg spoke at the Apartheid Museum and the Pollsmoor Prison. On his return to Heathrow, when stepping of the aircraft, Begg was presented with a letter informing him that his passport was being removed under the Royal Prerogative because he was ‘deemed to be involved in terrorism’. The officers took his passport while reminding him that ‘having a passport is not a right, it’s a privilege’. He initiated a new legal battle with the government to get his passport back. But with a few cases now pending and without Legal Aid, Moazzam has got limited possibilities of the number of legal cases he can fight at a time – not least because he is now prevented for doing international outreach work that he has been doing since his release from Guantanamo.
Painfully, the passport removal affects his whole family. His imprisonment had negative effects on the well-being of all family members. Despite being back home from Guantanamo, Moazzam finds that he is still prevented in participating fully in his family life. He says:
‘It was particularly cruel in the beginning because of the trips my children were making, or my wife and kids were making as a family that I couldn’t go on. And again it’s the same thing. For my youngest son, who was born when I was in Guantanamo, I’ve never travelled anywhere with him outside the UK and so all of these things have a corrosive effect on the family first and foremost’.
Now, when his family are making plans to travel anywhere they have to count him out: ‘or somebody stays behind just so I don’t feel bad’. At the time of interview, Moazzam was preparing for a Judicial Review to get his passport back.