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Talha Ahsan

Talha Ahsan is a British poet, translator and human rights campaigner. After six years in detention without trial in the UK Talha was extradited to a ‘supermax’ prison in the USA in 2012 where he was kept in solitary confinement until he entered into a plea-bargain in December 2013.

‘As time went along, the magnitude of the case only seemed to expand and as if with rubbing palms and salivating mouths the prosecutors were presenting me as part of an enormous global al-Qaeda conspiracy’.

Talha’s Story

At 14 Talha Ahsan had begun attending his local Friday circle in Tooting, London. This was a weekly gathering organised by local young Muslims who had grown up with Muslim Brotherhood/ Ikhwan educational initiatives and now took their own direction. The circle, headed by Babar Ahmad and his brother, became a forum through which local Muslim men held regular discussions concerning Islam and politics, informed by events such as the Bosnian genocide and the lack of global concern for the atrocities experienced by Bosnian Muslims.  With regular attendance Talha was invited to participate in further activities such as running the “Dawah stall”.[1]  Pursuing his interest in Islamic politics further, at 19 he went on to study at School of Oriental and African Studies graduating with first class honours, spending some time during this period learning Arabic.  After he graduated in 2004 he spent some time working in his father’s business while he looked for work that would allow him to continue developing his intellectual interests, exploring possibilities of becoming a librarian or a teacher.

For six months, between March and August 2001, Talha assisted Babar in the running of his website, Azzam.com, processing orders received via their post office box in London and mailing purchased products to customers in the U.K. and abroad. As part of his duties, he made electronic copies of the correspondence that was received.[2] On one occasion he had typed up an unsolicited document, sent by a US navy man that recorded ship points of US navy vessels.  He was never involved in administering the website, simply filling the orders.

Talha remained detained for six years without trial in Britain before eventually being extradited, where after two years in pre-trial solitary confinement he entered into a plea bargain. There was never any trial.

Five years later and some eighteen months after Babar Ahmad’s second arrest, in February 2006 the Metropolitan Police arrived at Talha’s home.  They searched his family’s house, confiscated his passport, left with some his belongings but made no arrest.  Nothing appeared to come of it and Talha settled back into life.  A few months went by before the police called again to say they would be returning the passport. The next day, in July 2006, four officers arrived at his home. One of the officers slid a plastic pouch towards him which contained his passport with a form to be signed before stating that another officer wanted to speak to him first. Going outside, as requested, the second officer informed Talha that the US had made serious allegations against him and that he was to be arrested. He recalled ‘I was requested to place my hands in front to be cuffed. In agitation my frantic hands searched around my belt for my phone to call a solicitor. The movements in turn palpably frightened the officer and he urged my hands being placed in front of him’. Talha remained detained for six years without trial in Britain before eventually being extradited, where after two years in pre-trial solitary confinement he entered into a plea bargain. There was never any trial.

The charges against Talha, and his later conviction, centred around helping Babar Ahmad with the postal orders during those six months in 2001, and specifically for typing up the ship document which was neither uploaded or disseminated, nor seen as grounds for prosecution by the British authorities.[3]  None of the other postal clerks that had worked for the website were ever arrested.  Talha was never questioned by British authorities and was not made aware of the details of the allegations against him until he entered plea bargain negotiations in the US. He explains:

‘As my involvement in Azzam Publications was so tangential most of the allegations in the indictment and accompanying affidavit were unknown to me. I suspected I had been indicted due to the ship document I had typed though that was not seen as grounds for prosecution by the CPS.  As time went along, the magnitude of the case only seemed to expand and as if with rubbing palms and salivating mouths the prosecutors were presenting me as part of an enormous global al-Qaeda conspiracy’.

For this offence he faced charges of conspiracy and material support and a maximum sentence of 80-100 years in prison most likely to be spent in a US Federal Supermax where for much of that time he would be held in solitary confinement.

[1] This is stall distributing leaflets and literature promoting the teachings of Islam- this in itself has become a criminalized activity through counter-terrorism policing, and used as an avenue for sting operations- for example in the Farooqi case.

[2] Taken from plea bargain

[3] A British based bookseller, Ahmad Faraz, ran a bookshop and acted as distributor of Azzam publications. He was prosecuted in the UK. At first, he received a 5 year sentence and was eventually acquitted on appeal. At the initial stage of Faraz’s conviction, Azzam publication were regarded as involved in publishing historical documents rather than terrorist materials (from Hamja)

Further Resources
  1. Watch Talha reading his poetry at DDE event in York, May 2016
  2. Free Talha Ahsan webpage: http://freetalha.org/
  3. A Human Rights Court Gives Torture the Green Light, by Jeanne Theoharis and Saskia Sassen, The Nation (article)
  4. US Justice for British Citizens? TheRealNews. 2012 (YouTube clip)
  5. Kapoor, Nisha. “Extraordinary Extradition: Racial (In) justice in Britain.” In The state of race, pp. 181-201. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2013