Actors Detained by Special Branch Following Terror Roles

Written by James MacGregor on . Posted in Documentary

Homeland Security Warning NoticeTwo actors who appear in the award-winning British documentary The Road to Guantanamo were detained and interrogated at Luton Airport by Special Branch when returning from Berlin, along with two former Guantanamo prisoners. One of the actors says his treatment by security authorities was "intimidating" and "humiliating."

 Defending the Realm - UK security services





The two actors, Rizwan Ahmed and Farhad Harun, were returning from the Berlin Film Festival along with the two men they actually portrayed, Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul. These men were two of the so-called “Tipton Three” who came from the West Midlands. They were held in Cuba for over two years before finally being released in March 2004 without any charges having been brought against them.


The film, The Road To Guantanamo, directed by Michael Winterbottom, won the prestigious Silver Bear Award at Berlin.The men were stopped and questioned for over an hour after they arrived at Luton airport.

Actor Rizwan Ahmed was told by the detaining officer because anyone with “terror links” had to be questioned, but the two former Guantanamo prisoners the actors were travelling with have never been charged or convicted with any terror offence.

The sign welcoming travellers to Luton AirportWinterbottom’s film shows how three youths from Tipton set off for Pakistan in September 2001 to attend a wedding and afterwards, volunteered for aid work in neighbouring Afghanistan. When the US forces descended on Afghanistan, the three youths were captured by Northern Alliance soldiers. After being handed over to American forces, they ended up at the Guantanamo prison camp.

After finally being released the prisoners gave interviews detailing torture and abuse they say they suffered at the hands of their American captors. Rasul said he was not allowed out of his cell for the first six weeks he was at the camp.

Behind razor wire - prisoners at Guantanamo Bay“There was a hook on the floor and leg irons attached to the hook, and they put your hands between your ankles on the floor and chained you to the hook on the floor as well, “ he said. “They’d keep you there for five hours, six hours—you couldn’t go to the toilet, you’d have to urinate, defecate where you are.”

The legal director of the human rights organisation Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith, denounced the detention of the four men at Luton Airport. He said Special Branch was adding “insult to injury by harassing innocent men who suffered for two long years in Guantánamo Bay before being released without charge.” He added, “As if that were not enough, the Special Branch then detains the actors who portray them in a film.”

According to press reports, on their arrival back in Britain, Shafiq Rasul was stopped at the immigration desk. Shortly afterwards, Rizwan Ahmed - who plays Rasul in the film - was questioned in the baggage claim area by a Special Branch officer. She took notes of his answers and made notations from his passport. When actor Rizwan Ahmed asked why he was being questioned, he was taken to an interview room.


The officer asked to examine the contents of Rizwan Ahmed’s wallet, so the actor asked to speak to a lawyer. He was then told he had no right to legal advice and the officer showed him a blank form with the heading “Section 7 of the Terrorism Act Detention Form,” which stated that a superintendent could order a person to be detained for up to 48 hours without outside contact, not even with a lawyer.

The actor then the officer if he was a superintendent. He was then told he was not being held under this form and would be denied access to a lawyer only for the first hour of his questioning.

The officer left the room and Ahmed took the opportunity to use his mobile phone to call an academic lawyer friend, Ravinder Thukral. This lawyer then spoke to the officer directly.

Airport concourse in front, indimidating discourse behind the scenesWhat is not clear is whether any legal case was being made for refusing to allow Ahmed to make calls, or whether those holding him were being less than helpful. The lawyer Thukral then contacted Reprieve, which has represented many Guantánamo detainees.

While these contacts were being made, the actor, under the threat of “continued detention,” allowed the officer to go through his wallet. The officer took down details of his bank card and the business cards he was carrying.

It is reported  that the officer asked Ahmed if he intended to make more films and also asked if he had become an actor to make films “to publicise the struggles of Muslims.” The actor was questioned on his political views, including his attitude to the Iraq war.


Ahmed said the officer then suggested he become an informant, asking if he would mind being contacted regularly by officers, in case he overheard people “discussing illegal activities.”

At this moment Stafford Smith contacted Ahmed on his mobile telephone. Under instruction, the actor told the officer that a solicitor from the office of human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce - who had represented the Tipton Three - would call in a few minutes. The officer then said this would not be alloweed, and called in a male colleague. This colleague then took Ahmed’s telephone and proceeded to examine the numbers stored in the phone’s memory.

      YOU F**KER

A third officer then came in and Ahmed was threatened with being taken to a police station. Ahmed says the officer who had his telephone called him a “f**ker” and, when he objected to this, accused him of “making things up.” Ahmed demanded to be allowed to call Tipton Three lawyer Gareth Peirce’s office.

The female officer granted this, but she warned Ahmed if he asked about anything other than his right of legal access, the telephone would be taken away from him. As soon as he got through to the lawyer’s office, the officers holding him said he was free to go. On officer said that by insisting on talking to lawyers, he was prolonging his own detention.

Ahmed was denied the names of the interviewing officers and copies of any notes they had made from the interview. He was handed a search record sheet, that stated the purpose of the detention was “intelligence.” The second page of the record sheet, with the heading “Officers Must Also Complete,” was left blank.Ken Stott as Adolf Hitler - should he be interrogated?

Speaking afterwards, Ahmed described the incident as “humiliating” and “intimidating,” and expressed concern that “being tagged as some kind of political activist” could jeopardise his employment prospects.

Reprieve's legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, condemned Ahmed’s detention as “patently illegal when it happened.” But he also warned that under recent legislation against “glorifying” acts of terrorism, an actor involved in a production that put an opposing side of the story to the official government line, may well face the threat of detention.

“Who’s next?” he asks. “Is Ken Stott going to be detained because he played... Adolf Hitler?”

The Road to Guantanamo will be shown on British television on March 9.


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