The art of internment

An exhibition of works made in British prisons offers a glimpse into the lives of 40 Muslim men who were held without charge after 9/11. Victoria Brittain tells their stories: When much of this artwork was made, in Belmarsh prison in the aftermath of the post 9/11 roundups of Muslim men who were held without trial, none of these men would have imagined that almost seven years later they would be in an even worse position. After the House of Lords ruling in December 2004 that detention without trial was unlawful, they went from Belmarsh in south-east London to a world of house arrests with stringent conditions and threatened deportations, or to Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire with bail refused thereafter to most. Seemingly endless legal appeals in the Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal (Siac) and again to the House of Lords have followed, on deportations to countries that practise torture – Algeria, Libya and Jordan – and on the conditions of the house arrests under control orders or deportation bail. Britain has become for these men not a refuge but Kafka country. Evidence against them is kept secret even from their lawyers. And the system of Siac special advocates – senior barristers who can see the secret evidence but not disclose it – has been utterly discredited since Ian MacDonald QC resigned in 2004, saying that his role was, “to provide a false legitimacy to indefinite detention without knowledge of the accusations being made and without any kind of criminal charge or trial. For me this is untenable.” Victoria Brittain reports.