Statement regarding Kensington Town Hall ban on Imam Anwar al-Awlaki
Cageprisoners (CP) is deeply concerned by the decision by Kensington and Chelsea Council to ban Imam Anwar al-Awlaki from addressing the CP annual Ramadan fundraising dinner on 30 August 2009.
To date, despite several requests for reasons as to why Imam al-Awlaki has been banned, the Council has not been willing to provide any information other than that if the event went ahead with the current list of speakers, "there would be damage to the Council's reputation".
Imam al-Awlaki was the subject of a CP campaign following his detention without charge in Yemen. Imam al-Awlaki addressed the CP dinner by video link last Ramadan and prior to that was interviewed by CP upon his release from prison. Both the video message and the interview can be viewed at the links below.
Imam al-Awlaki has never been charged, let alone convicted, of any offence. He was accused of being involved in international terrorism as were other guest speakers, Moazzam Begg, Sami El-Hajj, Moussa Zemmouri and Binyam Mohamed who were incarcerated without charge in Guantanamo Bay. Curiously, the Council does not feel that the involvement of any of the former Guantanamo Bay detainees is likely to damage its reputation. The interest CP has in all of these individuals is their detention without charge as part of the suspension of due process and the rule of law in the ‘war on terror’.
Beyond this, CP cannot comment on any other statements attributed to Imam al-Awlaki or other guests as we are unaware of their accuracy and furthermore, they are of limited importance to the remit of CP which is to focus on civil liberties and human rights. It is this defined focus which is why this year’s annual dinner is being sponsored by three of the UK’s leading anti-terrorism solicitor firms – Birnberg Peirce and Partners, Tyndallwoods Solicitors, and Khan Solicitors.
CP is moreover concerned by the unprofessional and backhanded manner in which the Council has come to its decision. CP was unable to discuss the decision with the Town Hall as we were informed that it was ordered by Council Leader Merrick Cockell, who we were told was on annual leave. CP would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss the Council's concerns with them and is disappointed by their behaviour of acting first and then refusing to discuss their decision making policy with CP. CP is further concerned as to the Council’s decision to release ill-founded statements to the press regarding the event.
The Council informed CP that it had received complaints about Imam al-Awlaki but refused to elaborate on the nature or source of those complaints. It threatened to terminate the event unless CP agreed not to screen or read out Imam al-Awlaki’s message at the event. With less than two weeks remaining before the event, finding an alternative venue is not a viable option and CP has had no choice but to accede to the demands of the Council. CP regrets the current position and apologises to its supporters for events which are out of its control.
CP would have expected more accountability and better processes from a local governmental body and question why despite the venue being confirmed with the Town Hall on 29 April with full details of the speakers provided and several subsequent site visits by members of CP, no concerns were ever raised about any of the speakers until mid-August 2009.
The Council remains secretive as to their decision-making process and has to date refused to address the following matters:
1) Why they believe Imam al-Awlaki;s video message would damage the Council's reputation.
2) Who has raised these concerns with them.
3) Why these concerns were not raised at an earlier stage;
4) Whether the Council had discussed these concerns with the police and the Home Office and if so, what their response had been'
The position of the Council appears to be duplicitous considering the fact that despite widespread opposition and international opprobrium to the State of Israel's genocidal actions in Gaza, it invited the Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor to a private diplomatic reception in February 2009. Mr Prosor spoke at the event despite Labour Councillors tabling a motion for his invitation to be withdrawn. Curiously, the Council did not believe that the presence of an individual who publicly justified the bombings of schools, universities, and mosques in Gaza, would damage its reputation.
Notes to Editor:
1.Cageprisoners’ annual fundraising dinner will take place on 30 August 2009 at Kensington Town Hall at 5.30 pm. Guest speakers will include ex-Guantanamo Bay detainees Binyam Mohamed, Sami el-Hajj and Moazzam Begg as well as Terry Holdbrooks, a former guard at Guantanamo Bay. To purchase tickets or for further information, please visit www.cageprisoners.com . The dinner is being co-sponsored by the Cordoba Foundation, Tyndallwoods Solicitors, Khan Solicitors, Muslim Hands, Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Hhugs, the Hittin Institute, Aerosol Arabic, Sapna Caterers and Life of This World Productions.
2.Cage Prisoners is a human rights organisation that exists to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror. We aim to give a voice to the voiceless.