Talha Ahsan protest outside the Home Office Talha Ahsan protest outside the Home Office. Photograph: Peter Stauber

A welcome home rally in front of the Home Office celebrated Talha Ahsan’s recent release, reports Peter Stäuber

The level of support that the campaign to free Talha Ahsan has enjoyed was demonstrated on Sunday evening, as a crowd of around a hundred people gathered in front of the Home Office to welcome him back home. The line-up of speakers showed how wide-ranging his support has been over the past eight years. Talha Ahsan himself wasn’t actually there – in keeping with the surreal nature of the case, the family still does not know when they will see him again, as they were not given a date by the authorities for security reasons.

‘We want Theresa May to wake up to how needlessly authoritarian she has been’, said Talha Ahsan’s brother Hamja, who organised the protest. The speakers, who included poet AL Kennedy, the Artist Taxi Driver, and London Assembly member Murad Qureshi, lambasted a political and criminal justice system that led to Talha being imprisoned for six years without trial, before being extradited to the US. All the parties involved – the police, the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service and the US authorities – came in for heavy criticism. Veteran activist and former Catholic priest Bruce Kent, who visited Talha twice when he was imprisoned, spoke of the corruption of a system in which somebody can be accused of a crime by another country. “If any crime was committed, people should be tried here, in this country. That is what justice demands.”

But the rally was also a celebration of survival, Hamja said:

“Talha has survived detention without trial, Talha has survived group isolation, Talha survived being put into solitary confinement for an indefinite period of time in a death-row prison.”

Several speakers paid tribute to Talha’s resilience. While in detention, he kept writing poetry and was in regular correspondence with poets and writers in the UK. On Sunday evening, several of them read out poems they wrote in support of Talha, among them Zita Holbourne.

The speakers also emphasised that Talha’s case should not be seen in isolation. With unaccountability running through our government and human rights being eroded, campaigns like the one to free Talha Ahsan are fighting for all of us: to safeguard our civil liberties. As Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign said: ‘If Theresa May and this government have their way, we’ll have no access to human rights.’ Once Talha comes out, she said, we’d do well to listen to him, ‘because where Talha has been, unfortunately, he will not be the last. That is the society in which we live, and it is up to us to come out and speak.’

Peter Stauber

Peter Stäuber is a freelance journalist and translator. He writes for English and German language publications and is a member of the NUJ.