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Nine UK terror suspects win appeal

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Nine alleged international terrorists have won an appeal against their detention in Britain without trial under emergency powers.

Tuesday's ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in London was seen as a serious blow to the British government's anti-terrorism legislation imposed after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

SIAC chairman Mr Justice Collins said the government's Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which was rushed through in December, was "not only discriminatory and so unlawful ... But also it is disproportionate."

The law was unfair because it allowed the detention of foreign nationals only, even though British citizens may have been equally involved with al Qaeda or other terrorist organisations, he said.

It therefore breached the European Convention on Human Rights, the Commission said.

The challenge to the internment law brought in last year by British Home Secretary David Blunkett to detain international terror suspects was mounted by the civil rights' group Liberty.

Lawyers for the nine argued earlier this month that the Act created a series of "bizarre, irrational and extraordinary" situations in which detainees were deprived of their legal and human rights.

The ruling will not bring the immediate release of the nine, who have been held in south east London's high security Belmarsh prison. The UK government said it would appeal.

The government had been correct to state that there was a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation", said the panel.

The Home Office said in a statement that the court's finding did not make the detention unlawful, and the individuals would not be released as a result.

"We are disappointed that the court has found that these powers discriminate against foreign nationals. Our law has always distinguished between UK citizens and foreign nationals.

'Manifestly unjust'

"The 1971 Immigration Act for example allows the home secretary to detain an individual, prior to removal, on the grounds that their deportation is conducive to the public good.

"We will be appealing to the Court of Appeal on this issue. Those detained are free to leave the UK voluntarily at any time.

"The home secretary has used his powers to detain these individuals on the basis of detailed and compelling evidence.

"This evidence will be considered by the court in the autumn, when the individual cases will be heard, as provided under the act."

John Wadham, director of Liberty, said: "This has always been a manifestly unjust and discriminatory power.

"The government knows it cannot intern British citizens but thinks it acceptable to intern foreign nationals.

"The Human Rights Convention rightly ensures that this type of discrimination cannot be lawful. These suspects are being held in violation of their human rights."

Many of the nine foreign nationals have been held in several British high-security prisons without charge or trial for seven months.

Two other men detained under the act have voluntarily left the UK, as is allowed under the rules.

The panel heard the case in public over three days earlier this month before beginning a secret session, which no members of the press or public were allowed to attend.

The UK opted out from the Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives protection against detention without charge or trial.

Under the act, as it was, even the detainee and his or her lawyer were not allowed to see some of the material in the case against them.

The attorney-general appoints a "special advocate" who has been vetted by the security services MI5 and MI6 to assess the secret material on their behalf.




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