Caught in a Home Office trap
Y was sentenced to death in Algeria, but his inhumane immigration bail conditions seem designed to drive him back
Here's irony for you. Five monologues based on five men living under deportation orders broadcast online, through the Guardian, one a day over a week. But none of the men featured will be able to watch them. For these so-called "threats to national security", based on secret evidence, access to the internet, a computer or mobile phone is banned.
One of the men, Y, lives under immigration bail conditions in an isolated Home Office-selected location two hours outside London. Each time I visit I undergo a ritual. It involves switching off my mobile phone and digging deep into my handbag for stray USBs, iPods or MP3 players. I try to conceal my laptop under a car seat. Y is not allowed any of these items in the house.
A joint police and immigration search of his home can happen at any time, night or day. Hence the constant need for vigilant adherence to the "house rules". Y finds it amusing that the state thinks him such a genius that he is deemed a lethal weapon if he were to wield an iPod. Granted, he is rather good at Sudoko after years of practice in isolation, but, no offence to Y, such electrical wizardry is beyond him.
This level of intrusion has a purpose. The objective of the incessant hardship, the isolation, the forced living on the outer edges of sanity and civilisation is to force these men back to the torture cells they escaped from. Y was tortured in Algeria – the evidence is clear from the scars on the front and back of his head. His crime was to speak out against human rights abuses in the early 1990s. When it was clear that he had to leave he came to the UK, and with his powerful testimony he was given full rights to remain. Not a false passport or fake name in sight. Leaving saved his life. Not long after, he was issued with a death sentence in absentia in Algeria. The UK's desire to hand him back hints largely at maintaining diplomatic ties and is nothing to do with national security.
As a result, I see an isolated edgy young man turned old through the "slow torture" of these last eight years in the UK. Detained for a total of 57 months in prison – first for the ricin case, for which he was fully acquitted, then detained again based on…? Your guess is as good as mine. It's called secret evidence and neither Y or his lawyers have any idea what it is.
When I visit, we go to Tesco for coffee. It's the only place to go within his boundaries. On a rare occasion, Y gets clearance for the town centre but the time constraints are so challenging that the entire trip is adrenalin-inducing. A permitted three-hour trip is mainly spent on the bus getting there and back. And there is always a "random" police search of the house the next day.
When I leave, the tension in my head remains for some time. Even as a visitor you become infected by the pungent poison administered so lavishly by the Home Office and the security services to these men. This is Kafka's Trial, 2009.