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Campaign by EPUK member frees Iraqi interpreter

28 October 2007 - EPUK

An Iraqi journalist and interpreter who was imprisoned without charge for almost 1,000 days has been dramatically freed following a campaign by photographer and EPUK member Gary Trotter.

Tarik Ramadan was today collected by family members from Al-Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq at 8.45am GMT after his release was ordered personally by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Ramadan, 49, who would have spent his 1,000th day in imprisonment this Thursday, is said to be in good health despite having been on a hunger strike for over two weeks to protest his arrest.

Tarik Ramadan is reunited with his family today for the first time in two and a half years

Throughout his detention, Ramadan was never charged, was never told why he was being held, and had no legal representation. None of the Kurdish authorities produced any documentation to explain why Ramadan was being held.

“Your help has returned the happiness and the smile to a family, have missed that for the last three years, and have lived nights without morning” said Ramadan’s family in a message to supporters.

“We very grateful to you, you have proved the real meanings of the humanity and true friendship.”

“One of the nicest men you could meet”

The release followed a twenty month campaign by EPUK member Gary Trotter, for whom Ramadan acted as an interpreter when Trotter was on commission in Iraq in 2004.

Trotter described Ramadan as “one of the nicest men you could ever hope to meet. A more honest man you couldn’t hope to find.”

Photographer Gary Trotter and Tarik Ramadan in Iraq, 2004.

Trotter first became aware of Ramadan’s detention in January 2006, and has been campaigning since then for his release, including regular contact with MP Ann Clwyd, Special Envoy to the Prime Minister on Human Rights in Iraq.

On Thursday, Clywd’s office advised Trotter that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani , who was also the founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), had ordered the release of Ramadan.

“I’m stunned by the news”, Trotter told EPUK. “It’s been such a long time, and I still can’t quite believe it”

Trotter believes that the weight of grassroots support was crucial to Ramadan’s release. “I think it was all down to people taking the time and caring enough to send an email [to politicians]. People from all around the world, some of whom I’ve never met, let alone Tarik, have wanting to help ever since they read about Tarik’s story”.

Family believed he had been murdered

Ramadan family were led to believe that he had been either kidnapped or murdered after he failed to return home on 3rd February 2005 from US-military controlled Kirkuk airbase where his family business has a maintenance contract.

Despite making extensive enquiries at both the airbase and with local authorities, it was not until four months later that his family discovered from the Red Cross that Ramadan was being held at a prison in Al-Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan.

He had been arrested by US authorities while leaving the airbase, and handed over to officers from the Kurdish intelligence agency, who did not notify his family of his detention.

According to Human Rights Watch, Ramadan was just one of hundreds of prisoners unlawfully held and tortured for up to five years by Asayish, the Kurdish Intelligence Agency

A July 2007 report states: “Detainees have reported that torture or other ill-treatment during the initial period of detention were routine and commonplace in facilities under Asayish authority”

“Human Rights Watch found that in the vast majority of Asayish detainee cases the Kurdistan authorities did not charge detainees with offenses, allow them access to a lawyer, bring them before an investigative judge, provide a mechanism by which they could appeal their detentions, or bring them to trial within a reasonable time period.”

“Detainees reported a wide range of abuse, including beatings using implements such as cables, hosepipes, wooden sticks, and metal rods. Detainees also described how Asayish agents put them in stress positions for prolonged periods, and kept them blindfolded and handcuffed continuously for several days at a stretch.”

The might of reason

Gary Trotter has today released a multimedia presentation to mark Ramadan’s release, which can be seen below.

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