(CN) – The United Kingdom cannot send an al-Qaida suspect back to his Jordan homeland, even though the Middle Eastern state is required to treat suspected terrorists humanely, the European Court of Human Rights ruled.
Alleging that he had been tortured by the Jordanian security agency, Omar Othman aka Abu Qatada, an Islamist, petitioned the UK for asylum in 1993.
Britain granted Othman leave to stay as a refugee until 1998. In 1999, Jordan convicted Othman in absentia of collaborating on two bomb plots.
Though Othman petitioned to remain in the UK indefinitely, authorities detained him in 2002 under an anti-terrorism law.
In 2009, the rights court said that the UK’s detention of Othman for 2 1/2 years was illegal. That same year, UK courts found that Othman could be sent back to Jordan, citing Jordan’s bilateral agreement with the UK to humanely treat any terror suspect sent back to face charges.
Othman immediately brought this case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming he should not be sent back to Jordan since he still faced the risk of torture.
The rights tribunal, based in Strasbourg, France, found that the Jordanian intelligence agency was known to use torture, and that Othman – a high-profile Islamist who claimed past torture there – would be likely to face it again if sent back.
Jordan’s bilateral diplomatic agreement on the treatment of removed persons is nevertheless sound, the decision states. The memorandum of agreement between the UK and Jordan is “specific and comprehensive,” including independent monitoring, according to the seven-judge chamber.
If Jordan were to allow Othman to be ill-treated, this would have “serious consequences for its bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom,” the court said.
But Othman would not receive a fair trial so long as Jordan could use evidence obtained through past torture, the court added.
In light of the widespread use of torture in Jordan, including the torture of Othman’s co-defendants for his conviction there, the UK should not be allowed to send him back, the court concluded.
The UK, which is still holding Othman, may still appeal the decision to the rights tribunal’s grand chamber. If it does not, it will have to decide what to do with Othman: release him, try him there or send him to another country where he could receive a fair trial.
Rights groups expressed concern about the decision. Amnesty International, which had intervened on behalf of Othman, called the ruling “an alarming setback for human rights.”
“Diplomatic assurances are no substitute for respect for the legal obligation not to send a person to a place where he is at real risk of torture,” Amnesty International counter-terrorism expert Julia Hall said in a statement.