Saudi dissident goes to court

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT faces a humiliating defeat in court, lawyers for the Saudi Arabian dissident Mohammed al-Masari predicted yesterday, as they pledged to fight the Home Office decision to deport their client. They also poured scorn on the Government's attempts to placate the arms industry and Saudi royal family by compromising human rights in Britain.

Mr al-Masari said yesterday said he would lodge an appeal against his deportation to the tiny Windward Island of Dominica, a country with which he has no connection. He would also launch a judicial review in the High Court which would challenge the "natural justice" of Home Secretary Michael Howard's decision to send one of the most persistent critics of the corrupt and dictatorial Saudi monarchy to the Caribbean.

Last week a meeting of lawyers at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) produced a dozen grounds for challenging the legality of the deportation notice.

Claude Moraes, the Council's director, said: "The Government is making a mockery of the law and Britain's international treaty obligations."

Despite a week of revelations showing the extraordinarily close links between arms manufacturers, Government and the Saudi royal family, the Home Office said yesterday that it would not stop its attempts to force Mr al-Masari out of Britain.But leading lawyers believe that ministers have wrecked their case.

The admission from junior trade minister Ann Widdecombe that the dissident was being expelled because Britain had "good trade relations" with the dictatorship would be central to the case against the Home Office, they said.

In none of her interviews has Ms Widdecombe denied that Saudi Arabia has an appalling human rights record or that Mr al-Masari has a genuine asylum claim.

After revelations in the Independent last week that Malcolm Rifkind, the Defence Secretary, quadrupled aid to Dominica just before the island's government agreed to take Mr al-Masari, Mr Moraes said that it was not a safe country to house the refugee.

"One reason why Dominica may have been picked from the atlas is that it has not signed UN conventions on torture and extradition," he said.

Yesterday Mr al-Masari claimed that the small Dominican security forces would not be able to protect him.

Meanwhile Labour continued to put pressure on the Government about the case. Douglas Henderson, the party's immigration spokesman, said the Government could not "chop and change" from honouring international obligations "every time we think it might not suit our economic interests".

David Clelland, Labour MP for Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, where Vickers Defence Systems, the arms company involved in the attempts to deport Mr al-Masari, employs 1,000 people making tanks, said that although he wanted to protect jobs the Government had gone too far. "The British government should have done more not to confuse international relations between countries with an individual's right to free speech," he said.

But former armed forces minister Sir Archie Hamilton defended the Government and said a tank order for Vickers would be lost if Mr al-Masari stayed in Britain. "The Government took the interests of jobs in the North-east rather than those of Mr al-Masari."