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Guantanamo protest at US embassy

BBC | January 11, 2007 

Protesters are due to gather outside the US embassy in London to mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
The protest is one of a number being organised around the world by human rights group Amnesty International.

A candlelit vigil outside Downing Street on Wednesday was intended to put pressure on the government to secure the release of detained UK residents.

MP Sarah Teather said it was "outrageous" it was not doing more.

Protesters wearing orange boiler-suits, blindfolds, goggles and face-masks are expected to take part in the demonstration outside the US embassy.

Amnesty International has called the camp "an icon of lawlessness".

Spokesman Neil Durkin told BBC News: "It is totally, completely unacceptable that you are holding 390 prisoners in total defiance of international human rights standards.

"You are not allowing human rights groups there, you are not allowing families to visit, and you are not offering these prisoners - even after five years - the prospect of a fair trial.

"There are all those allegations of torture as well, so I think it is important we say something today."

The UK government has already said it would prefer it if the camp was closed.

Currently there are eight British residents with leave to return being held at the camp in Cuba, which has come under fire from human rights groups.

Among them are Iraqi businessman Bisher al-Rawi and his friend, Jordanian Jamil el-Banna, who both lived in London before they were detained.

They have been held without trial in Guantanamo Bay since 2003 on suspicion of having links to terrorism.

Their lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, visited them in November 2006.

He told BBC News that Mr el-Banna was not receiving an appropriate diet for diabetes, which was causing extreme leg pains and a deterioration in his eyesight.

"He very much wants to be with his family and has always maintained his innocence."

Mr el-Banna has five British children, the youngest of whom he has never met. Mr al-Rawi has been in isolation since March last year and is having a mental breakdown, says Mr Katznelson, of UK charity Reprieve.

Continuing talks

In his cell, there is a thin sleeping mat, toilet, sink and a Koran to read. Lights are left on all day and night and he is rarely allowed outdoors, the lawyer added.

Both men's MPs are fighting to secure their release.

Liberal Democrat MP Edward Davey asked Prime Minister Tony Blair on 8 January to make a personal plea to US President George W Bush to secure Mr al-Rawi's release.

The Foreign Office said it was in continuing talks with the US over his release and the decision was in the hands of US officials.

However, it said that following a court ruling last July, it was under no obligation to act on behalf of his fellow foreign nationals being held.

'More pain'

Sarah Teather, Lib Dem MP for Brent East, said it was "outrageous" that the government "would not lift a finger" to help her constituent.

"Each day that Jamil el-Banna spends in illegal imprisonment brings more pain for his family," she said.

Also joining the vigil will be Amani Deghayes, whose Libyan-born brother Omar, 37, from Brighton, has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.

His mother Zohra Zewawi said she had travelled to Cuba for the five-year anniversary protest because her heart was "overflowing with grief".


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