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Political Interference? UK Challenged Over Role in Libyan Rendition Prosecution

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The UK government has been challenged over its refusal to disclose whether cabinet ministers or other officials politically interfered in a decision not to lay charges over British involvement in the 2004 kidnap, rendition and torture of two families.

Human rights campaigners Reprieve have lodged a complaint with the UK's information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, calling for an investigation into the government's secrecy on the matter.

Reprieve's complaint is based on the government's refusal to oblige with a freedom of information (FoI) request regarding possible political interference into the Crown Prosecution Service's (CPS) decision not to lay charges over British involvement in the rendition of Libyan dissidents Sami al Saadi and Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, and their families in 2004.

​The CPS announced in June that it would not bring forward charges regarding the UK's role in the incident, despite finding evidence that a senior British intelligence official was involved in the operation that saw a pregnant woman and children aged between 6 and 12 arrested.

UK's Role in Rendition

The two men, al Saadi and Belhaj, were arrested in south-east Asia in 2004 as part of a CIA operation, where they were then flown back to Libya and tortured.

Documents discovered in 2011 following Gaddafi's overthrow as Libyan leader revealed how Britain had taken part in the operation by tipping off authorities as to Belhaj's whereabouts at the time.

​Despite the evidence, which consisted of a 28,000-page file provided by the Metropolitan Police, the CPS decided there were no grounds to charge any British personnel over the incident.

The information commissioner will now investigate Reprieve's complaint regarding the UK's secrecy and their failure to disclose information on potential cabinet or Downing Street interference.

​Cori Crider, an attorney at Reprieve who represents the families said:

"The CPS sat on a 28,000 page police file for almost two years before they said there was 'insufficient evidence' to charge anyone at MI6 over the kidnap and torture of the Belhaj and al Saadi families. Now, the Cabinet Office, which supports the Prime Minister and oversees intelligence, is refusing to say whether it met with the CPS about the case."

​"The trouble is, the FCO [Foreign Office] denied meeting prosecutors. When one government agency says no, neither confirming nor denying looks like a 'yes.' What was the nature of this potential contact between the Cabinet Office and the CPS? Was there subtle political pressure not to bring charges? This response undermines confidence in the whole process."

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