Those who know Baraa Shiban will realise how utterly stupid the UK Government should feel right now.
For those who don’t know, Baraa is a Yemeni youth activist who took on the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, and now works for the British charity Reprieve investigating American drone strikes in the country. He is also a representative of Yemen’s independent youth at the National Dialogue Conference in Sana’a, a part of Yemen’s transition process that is fully supported by the UK Government.
Baraa was in London to speak at Britain’s premier foreign policy think-tank, Chatham House, on Yemeni perspectives on counter-terrorism. I’m sure he’ll have some interesting things to say.
Now, I can only assume that the reason for his detention under anti-terrorism laws was his anti-drones activism. Baraa’s job involves him going around Yemen to meet the victims of US drone strikes and their families. Here he is taking on an American Republican on the issue when he was last in the UK.
This is all apparently reason enough for UK border control to detain an activist for two hours.
And it gets worse, because the official who was interrogating Baraa also happened to be a complete idiot.
Baraa told The Times:
“I was asked about my political beliefs and what I thought about human rights abuses in Yemen. Did I think that my Government was treating the Yemeni citizens fairly … I told [the customs official] that I did not think my opinion had anything to do with security protocol.”
He said that the official responded: “If you’re coming here to kill the Queen then your opinion is important.”
My dear Lord.
Baraa’s reaction to that was fantastic.
“Trust me, sir, your Queen is fine.”
I would love to hear a response from the UK Government as to why this monumental cock-up happened, but I’m not holding my breath. But if this was an attempt to intimidate him into silence on the drones issue, then it might be interesting for them to learn that Baraa was abducted, beaten, and had his life threatened by the Saleh regime in 2011 for his human rights activism. He wasn’t silenced then, and I doubt he’ll be silenced now.