Statement by Jack’s Parents on His Continued Detention in Kurdish-Controlled Territory in Northern Syria
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John and I were delighted to hear the news this morning that Matthew Hedges, the academic accused by the UAE government of being an MI6 spy, has been released from his life sentence and is back with his family in the UK. As the parents of Jack Letts, who has been detained in Kurdish-controlled Syria for 18 months under suspicion (but with no evidence) of being a terrorist, we too dream of the day when we will see him again, wrap our arms around him, and convince him that – despite his claim that ‘the world hates me without even knowing me’ – he will again be treated like a human being and not like the media-created monster he has been made out to be.
We know, however, that the differences between Matthew Hedges’ case and that of Jack could not be starker. First and foremost is the attitude of the British Foreign Office. We are told that Jeremy Hunt lobbied intensely for Hedge’s release and asked for evidence to be produced that proved Hedges was a spy. In Jack’s case, the FCO has repeatedly informed us that ‘the FCO has no consular assistance in Syria and has not done so since 2012. There is therefore very limited assistance that the FCO can provide.’
This stock paragraph is the only response that the FCO has ever supplied us with in the face of any new information we have given them over the past 18 months – including the fact that Jack is never allowed out of his cell contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Convention; no due legal process is taking place with regard to any investigation of him; no evidence has been produced to show he has ever been a terrorist; there is a complete lock-down on legal access to him; and – most worrying to us, his parents – he has already tried to take his own life once.
It is clear that once the British state’s portcullis of secrecy and intransigency has come definitively down, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. Our appeals to British justice, morality, international law, reason, humanity, humanitarian law, ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – all of which we have pleaded in our numerous letters, emails, phone calls, and petitions – to Ministers, FCO officials, opposition leaders, MPs, NGOs, clergymen, academics – have fallen on extremely deaf ears. No one, it seems, wants to potentially support a possible terrorist.
But what evidence does anyone have that Jack is one? At most, a few stroppy Facebook messages from him condemning the coalition bombing, and a statement of his Muslim duty to oppose Assad. With regard to the former, John and I receive much worse hate material on a fairly constant basis via Twitter and Facebook, and with regard to the latter, the whole coalition is against Assad, the man who imprisons, tortures, and kills his opponents, as proven by the thousands of ‘Caesar’ photographs of thousands of his victims, many of whom had their eyes gouged out.
‘If Jack could make his way to Iraqi Kurdistan where there is a British consular office, the FCO could assist him there,’ I was told by a British consular official in Erbil in May 2017. Since Jack is under armed guard 24 hours a day, it is extremely unlikely he would be able to jaunt across the Syria/Iraq border to present himself for assistance, was my response. And since the FCO seems mysteriously incapable of picking up a phone due to their lack of in-country consular presence, they are regrettably unable to assist in this jaunty process themselves. This, despite the fact that the detaining Kurdish authorities have repeatedly pleaded with foreign governments to take back their nationals, being unable to cope with the burden of hosting the hundreds of foreign detainees within their territories.
In such an absurd stalemate situation, one would expect other non-governmental forces to intervene, or at least ask questions. As Daniela Tejada, the wife of Matthew Hedges, stated, the ‘international community and international media’ were ‘very supportive’ in securing Matthew’s release. In our case, the ‘international community’ has decided that Jack is ‘too politically difficult’. Certainly the UK’s Labour party and Canada’s Liberal Party have proved themselves reluctant to risk their chances of election by raising a controversial moral and legal case in Parliament. And large international organisations who can generally be relied upon to challenge the government’s unjust stance, in no way want to be associated with the ‘T’ word (i.e. terrorism), and so just avoid the subject completely. By closing their eyes to the humanitarian and political problem of thousands of uncharged, untried detainees – including women and children – in camps and prisons in Syria and Iraq, they seem to believe we can all just pretend they don’t exist, or at least agree that these detainees are not deserving of justice like normal human beings.
With regard to the media, it is true that some brave souls – individual journalists – have tried to penetrate the wall of secrecy and abdication of responsibility on the part of the Foreign Office, and attempted to ask relevant questions. They, in turn, either receive the same stock phrase, ‘the FCO has no consular assistance ….. etc, etc. ‘ or find that no official is willing to go on record against the governmental line.
Also, in Jack’s case, the state has very cleverly decided to criminalise his parents for having sent him money so that he could escape Syria, saying that this money ‘might’ be used for the purposes of terrorism. (Of course, it ‘might’ not, and might allow an innocent young man to escape instead.) As charged individuals awaiting trial, John and I are not allowed to publicise anything about our knowledge of Jack’s activities whilst in Syria, in case it prejudices a jury in our upcoming criminal case, scheduled for three and a half years after our actual arrest. This of course prevents us from defending either him or us. Any broadcaster or newspaper who publishes any such information is held to be in contempt of court and liable to a £30,000 fine. Needless to say, any journalists are extremely wary of going anywhere near us.
Calling upon the assistance of other countries has proven to be futile as well. Jack is in the ostensibly enviable position of being a dual citizen (British/Canadian), and therefore has two governments which could enter into diplomatic negotiations. Up until January 2018, we were indeed told that the Canadian government was ‘working diligently to secure Jack’s release.’ By May 2018, however, it appeared that the Canadian government ‘has no consular access and has not done so since 2012. Therefore, it is able to offer very limited assistance.’
The sudden appearance of the FCO’s stock phrase in the mouth of a Canadian official – who had spoken to Jack in January 2018 about his suicide attempt and had asked him if he wanted to come to Canada – was one of the biggest blows to date in our fight to achieve justice for Jack. Certainly, there are no prizes for guessing where the pressure for this abrupt about-turn came from. The British portcullis has power everywhere, it seems, even in places such as its former colonies which now have their own sovereignty but seem unwilling or incapable of exercising it.
So what are we, Jack’s parents, supposed to do now? My plan of screaming ‘Murderers’ outside the FCO building is unfortunately out of bounds, since if I get arrested whilst on bail, I go straight back to HMP Bronzefield, where I have already spent a week after not being granted bail the first time around. And then John will be the only parent struggling against the combined forces of the government, opposition, and police, and attempting to rally any possible form of support from civil society, NGOs, or the media. Believe me, even Sisyphus pushing his boulder uphill has an easier task than this.
As Justin Trudeau said (although seems unwilling to act upon), ‘The measure of a just society is not whether we stand up for people’s rights when it’s easy or popular to do so, it’s whether we recognize rights when it’s difficult, when it’s unpopular.’
Now all we need is enough decent individuals to agree with him.
Please sign this letter if you believe Jack should be released from unlawful detention, in line with the wishes of his Kurdish detainers, and should be allowed to present his side of the story in a fair trial, to be held either in Canada or Britain, the countries of his citizenship, in accordance with international law, humanitarian law, morality, and natural justice. We are aiming to get at least 1000 signatures and for a question on justice for Jack Letts to be raised in Parliament, so please share this open letter as widely as possible amongst your friends, colleagues, relatives, and contacts.
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