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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 15:25 GMT
Freed Britons attack government
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

Ian Nisbet, Maajid Nawaz and Reza Pankhurst
Return home: Three questioned at Heathrow
British men jailed in Egypt for being part of a banned Islamist group have accused the UK government of "brushing under the carpet" their torture claims.

Speaking days after their return, two of the three men said they were ashamed of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) members Ian Nisbet and Reza Pankhurst, from London, and Maajid Nawaz, from Essex, returned to the UK earlier in the week.

The UK government plans to ban HT, accusing it of terrorism links.

The trio were arrested in 2002 for attempting to revive Hizb ut-Tahrir, which translates as Party of Liberation. HT campaigns for majority Muslim countries to become a single Islamic state. It is outlawed in Egypt and in other areas of the Middle East and Asia.

The organisation is legal and active in the UK, but may be banned after the current anti-terrorism legislation passed through Parliament.

Mr Nawaz had originally travelled to Egypt as part of a compulsory year abroad as part of his university degree. Mr Nesbit was in the country to improve his Arabic, having already converted to Islam.

'Betrayed'

Speaking to the media Mr Nawaz, 30, and Mr Nesbit, 31, said they had been pawns in a wider political strategy by the British government to "curry favour" with Middle East regimes. They claimed they received no visits from British officials for the first three months of their detention.

Ian Nisbet and Maajid Nawaz outside a Cairo court
The men were held in Cairo
"I feel personally betrayed by the prime minister and back-handed discussions [between the UK and Egypt]," said Mr Nawaz.

"No words can describe how I feel. I was not treated like a citizen of this country, even though I was born in Essex.

"I'm a law-abiding citizen and could not believe that Tony Blair was taking these holidays [in Egypt] while turning a blind eye to us in prison. It's the ultimate betrayal."

"I feel that we were a problem that was brushed under the carpet because of deals [the UK] wanted to do with these governments [Middle East states]."

Mr Nawaz alleged that Mr Pankhurst, not present at the press conference, had been given electric shocks by Egyptian interrogators during their imprisonment.

Both he and Mr Nesbit had been subjected to extremely painful methods of restraint, he claimed, along with beatings, sleep deprivation and other forms of humiliation.

Possible ban

In August 2005, following the London bombings, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the government would ban HT, something which may happen once the current anti-terrorism legislation is passed by Parliament.

But the organisation has been lobbying MPs to back its cause, saying it is avowedly non-violent and has no association with terrorists.

Furthermore, it says it does not call for Islamic law in Britain because the UK is not an Islamic state.

Mr Nawaz said that while he wanted to rebuild his family life, his experience had strengthened both his faith and belief in political change for Muslim nations.

"I have become more convinced of the ideas that I went into prison with," he said. "After so many years of seeing the violence and torture [of the Egyptian authorities] I am convinced there is an alternative."

Mr Nesbit added that having returned home to learn of the plans to ban HT, he was concerned he could be imprisoned a second time for his beliefs. He stressed however that he just wanted to "hibernate until I feel alive again"

"I have not yet adjusted to being back, it is going to take time," he said. "We have to rebuild our lives, rebuild our families, it is not something I can describe."

Responding to the claims, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We take any allegations of mistreatment extremely seriously and our concerns about these claims have been made at all levels including by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

"We have pressed for a full investigation into the men's allegations and the Egyptian government can be in no doubt as to the seriousness with which the allegations are taken in the UK."




SEE ALSO:
Egypt jail trio rap UK 'apathy'
24 Mar 05 |  Middle East
Verdict on Egypt Britons delayed
25 Dec 03 |  England


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