Moazzam Begg’s application for new passport rejected despite terror prosecution collapsing in 2014
A former Guantánamo detainee is planning legal action against Priti Patel to try to restore his British passport, which was stripped from him eight years ago after two trips to Syria.
Moazzam Begg’s application for a new passport was rejected in September 2021, even though a terror prosecution relating to his time in Syria collapsed in 2014, after which police said they accepted he was innocent.
Frustrated by the delays and complaining of a lack of explanation, Begg, who works with the Cage advocacy group which campaigns to help people caught up in the “war on terror”, said he felt he had little choice but to apply for a judicial review.
“I’ve met with leaders of countries and government ministers; the police have said I’m innocent; but all of that seems to count for nothing. When I met with Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, when the Guantánamo cases were settled [in November 2010], he said he would like to turn over the page, but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Begg said.
He said that if he were able to travel he would like to visit his daughter in Turkey, whose marriage he had not been able to attend, and to return to Bagram in Afghanistan, where he was held for a year before being moved to Guantánamo.
“I saw two people there being murdered by US soldiers. Now the US has left I would like to go back and try and reinvestigate what happened, to try and visit the camp and the cells,” he said.
Begg was arrested in February 2002 in Pakistan, handed to US forces, and detained at Bagram before being moved to Guantánamo Bay. During his detention he was interrogated by British and US intelligence officers but released without charge in 2005.
The trips to Syria took place in 2012 and 2013, a time when armed resistance to the regime of Bashar al-Assad was beginning from a range of groups, but before the public emergence of Islamic State in 2014.
Before his second visit, Begg said he was contacted by MI5. “I told them: ‘I am trying to investigate your role in working with Assad regime in the programme of renditions.’” It was, he said, part of his campaigning activity.
After the conversation, Begg said, he met an MI5 officer and a lawyer at an east London hotel in October 2012. He said Security Service representatives made it clear that he was free to travel to Syria, where he stayed in opposition territory near Aleppo until April 2013.
Nevertheless, his passport was taken from him in December 2013, as he returned to the UK from a trip to South Africa.
Shortly after he was arrested on terror offences. A year later the prosecution case collapsed, undermined by secret material handed to the CPS. “They know from the probe they put in my car that I was totally against people who would go on to join Isis,” he said.
Begg applied again for a passport in 2019. One was briefly issued in September 2021 but revoked four weeks later. The email revoking his passport was dated 2017 and addressed to a woman accused of passport fraud. “I think it was a cut and paste job, they were in a rush,” he said. “They gave no explanation.”
Last month Begg’s lawyers sent a letter to the Home Office and the Passport Office putting them on notice of legal action in an attempt to get the decision overturned. Having had no reply, his team plan to launch an application for judicial review within days, supported by a crowdfunding campaign.
Begg said he believed the government’s actions showed it did not consider him a full citizen, despite the prosecution case against him collapsing in 2014. “This government hasn’t tried to take away my citizenship,” he said. “But a passport is a sign of your nationality, the most unique identity document somebody has.”