Racism against Muslim prisoners

I want to highlight an incident that has seriously affected my situation in prison. I am serving a ten-year sentence. Since my conviction I have been exemplary in behaviour and incurred no disciplinary reports prior to the incident I am about to describe. I am of Pakistani origin and until recently had not experienced any discriminatory treatment in prison or ill-treatment at the hands of other prisoners. Sunny Nasir Ahmed writes from HMP Glenochil.

In February 2008 I began to feel targeted by a small group of prisoners who behaved in a racist way towards me. Rather than confront them and risk an escalation, I requested a cell change to another area of the prison. This was eventually granted. Soon after, my cell was subjected to a special search by security staff, which confused me because such searches are only carried out because of definite information or intelligence. No explanation was given and I hoped that it would not adversely affect my progress in prison.

In about June a prisoner called Mohammed Siddique was released from segregation and allocated a cell close to mine. A young second-generation Pakistani from a small town in Stirlingshire, he had been convicted of downloading ‘terrorist material’ from the internet. There was some controversy surrounding his conviction and a view that he was in fact a naive and impressionable young man, guilty of little more than stupidly downloading material from websites that in the current political climate are considered extremely risky. Within Glenochil prison he was considered quite vulnerable because of the general mood against ‘Muslim extremists’ – although in reality he could hardly be described as such.

I formed a friendship with Mr Siddique because of our shared ethnic background and because we attended the Muslim class together and worked in the same work-shed. Prisoners in this work-shed often took items such as sticky tape and magnets without permission for their own personal use. Those found in possession of such items were usually given warnings or placed on disciplinary reports for possession of unauthorised articles.

In August 2009 Mr Siddique took a roll of sticky tape and two small magnets from the work shed and casually left them in my cell. Considering them of no great importance I left them on open display. During a routine search they were discovered and I was placed on report for being in possession of unauthorised items. At the subsequent disciplinary hearing I pleaded guilty and was given three days’ segregation and 10 days’ loss of privileges – a fairly standard punishment.

However, the following day I was seen by a governor who subjected me to intense questioning along the lines of: ‘Who are you intending to harm?’, ‘Are you planning to escape?’, ‘Did you intend to construct a bomb?’ I was totally confused and protested that I was innocent of such accusations. Nevertheless, I was made subject to ‘special security measures’ – placed on the ‘escape risk’ category and ‘high supervision level’ and made subject to closed visits with immediate family only. I was also held in isolation and photographed. Stories were leaked to the tabloids about a ‘terrorist conspiracy’ involving Mohammed Siddique, who at the time was awaiting the appeal against his conviction. The reality was completely different and had the items concerned been discovered in the cell of white prisoners a completely different interpretation would have been put on it. Because I am a Muslim of Asian background it was automatically assumed that I must be involved in terrorist activity, especially as I shared a prison friendship with a man reviled by the media as a professional terrorist.

In September 2009 I was finally released back into the prison mainstream and there was a gradual acknowledgement by the Glenochil administration that the ‘terrorist conspiracy’ was nonsense. Open visits were reinstated and I was taken off the high supervision level. But my situation has changed completely and I am treated differently by both staff and prisoners. Despite the quiet acceptance that I was guilty of nothing, officially the claim is that I was segregated because of my alleged involvement in unspecified ‘subversive activities’. Inevitably, this will impact upon my ability to progress to an open prison or my chances of parole. The attitude of most staff and prisoners is that there is no smoke without fire, and so I am now viewed by many as a potential terrorist, which increases the racism against me.

I can be philosophical about prisoners, who on the whole are poorly educated and therefore easily influenced by crude racist ideas. But I am less accepting of the behaviour of the prison authorities who misused their power to taint me as a terrorist purely because I happened to be of colour and of the Muslim faith. Despite my Pakistani origins I was born and raised in Glasgow and have always considered myself first and foremost a Scotsman with no interest whatsoever in politics. However, now I feel alienated and victimised and hold the prison authorities wholly responsible for this.

FRFI 213 February / March 2010


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