Tortured by Mubarak, punished by Canada: Mohammad Mahjoub tells his story

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"In the first place, when I got there, I got beaten. Beaten up by five guards. And they beat me very badly on my spine. I spent a month and a half, I couldn't walk. ... Then a few months later, I got a death threat by the jail staff. Sorry, I have to say the same language because I would like you to hear what they said to me. ‘You are a fucking Muslim terrorist. People like you should be killed' ... Then he turned himself to the other detainees, saying to them, 'Guys, why didn't you kill this fucking Muslim?'"

Speaking for the first time in public, Mohammad Mahjoub told an Ottawa audience about some of his experiences at the Metro Toronto West Detention Centre. (Video of Mahjoub's talk appears at the end of this article.)

Mr. Mahjoub was arrested under a security certificate on June 26, 2000. Never charged, he spent the following seven and a half years in prison, first in Metro Toronto West and then in Guantanamo North (which Mr. Mahjoub likens to a concentration camp because only Muslims were detained there). On the eve of a 2007 Supreme Court hearing to test the constitutionality of the security certificate process, Mr. Mahjoub was finally ordered transferred to house arrest.

A very recent Federal Court decision loosened some of his conditions, enabling him to travel outside Toronto. He decided to undertake a multi-city tour to meet supporters and tell his story.

On May 11, he boarded a plane and flew to Ottawa to begin the tour. It is remarkable that, despite the millions of dollars that have been spent to create the spectacle of a dangerous terrorist, in reality Mr. Mahjoub has not been considered sufficiently dangerous to even merit a place on Canada's no-fly list!

Central to government allegations that Mr. Mahjoub is too dangerous to remain at large in Canada is the fact that he was convicted in absentia in Egypt for alleged activities opposing the Mubarak regime.

Tortured by the Mubarak regime 

Mr. Mahjoub accordingly begins his story by relating how he was first arbitrarily arrested and tortured in Egypt. It was a matter of association with a former classmate, who somehow came to the attention of the Mubarak regime's security apparatus. Released without charge, Mr. Mahjoub was made to continue his compulsory military service. But he was now 'on the radar' and the persecution continued until he fled to Canada, where he was accepted as a refugee in 1996.

This did not end the story. In a high profile trial dubbed the "Returnees from Albania" case, Mr. Mahjoub was one of 107 people to be summarily convicted by military tribunal in Egypt. The trial was denounced by human rights groups for the use of torture and its failure to abide by the most minimal standards of fairness. (In a 2010 ruling in Mr. Mahjoub's case, the Federal Court of Canada acknowledged that this conviction was indeed based on evidence obtained under torture.)

After the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt's Arab spring revolution, Egypt began to reopen such cases. Last month, several very high profile individuals, central figures in the Returnees from Albania trials, were acquitted and freed by the Egyptian courts. But in Canada, Mr. Mahjoub remains detained.

How to explain the fact that Mr. Mahjoub has been detained without charge for almost 12 years in Canada and is still not free? That, in 12 years, the government has failed to produce any evidence to substantiate its allegations, but continues to oppose his release on the basis of secret, unsourced reports?

A fair trial is not possible

CSIS was also forced to reveal that it systematically listened into confidential calls between Mr. Mahjoub and his lawyers for years.

CSIS acknowledged to the Minister of Public Safety in 2008 that the bulk of information in Mr. Mahjoub's case was linked to torture. CSIS also admitted that it systematically destroyed evidence -- records of all interviews -- and both the Supreme Court and the Federal Court of Appeal have subsequently ruled that a fair hearing is not possible in such circumstances.

CSIS was also forced to reveal that it systematically listened into confidential calls between Mr. Mahjoub and his lawyers for years. Last summer, the Department of Justice seized and sorted through boxes of documents belonging to Mr. Mahjoub's lawyers filled with confidential case preparation materials. But still the case continues.

It is mind-boggling. The active participation of government lawyers, the central role of the Federal Court, the camouflage provided by academics and war-profiteering experts in national security, the contemptible silence from politicians of all parties, the chilling lack of concern from the public -- it is heart-breaking, infuriating, horrifying.

As the Federal Court explicitly stated in February 2012, the presumption of innocence does not apply to security certificate cases since there are no charges in the first place. Innocence or guilt are not at issue but rather profiles construed as dangerous and the interests and privileges embedded in those constructions.

Mr. Mahjoub is on the road to seek justice: the Ministers should withdraw the certificates against him and the two others who remain under security certificate, an apology and reparations should be offered to them, and those in the government responsible for these travesties must be held to account.



Mary Foster is a human rights activist and a member of the People's Commission Network. Mr. Mahjoub's speaking tour continues with events in many other Canadian cities. To find out where you can hear Mr. Mahjoub speak, please visit the Mahjoub Support Committee Website.

This article was first published in Prism Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

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