The cushy prison life awaiting Qatada .. growing vegetables and playing football


[06-07-2013 04:41 PM]

Ammon News - Deep in the Jordanian desert and surrounded by military bases, Muwaqqar prison does not have jail breaks.

(Express) - It has 240 solitary confinement cells purpose-built for the growing number of Islamist extremists trying to overthrow the established order.

One of these cells will be the destination of hate preacher Abu Qatada when he is flown out of Britain under cover of darkness this weekend.

Twenty years after he arrived in Britain seeking asylum from the Jordanian authorities, and nearly 15 years after he was found guilty in his absence of plotting two terrorist atrocities in Jordan, the cleric is set to make Muwaqqar his new home.

Despite its foreboding look with sentry towers dotted along the perimeter wall, the jail is not all harsh.

In the original Muwaqqar I section, where Qatada could end up after his retrial, prisoners have quite an easy life.

There is a theatre room where they put on performances for each other, a greenhouse for growing vegetables and recreation area to play football and volleyball.

Guards can watch their charges from under a gazebo crafted by inmates in woodwork classes.

In the visitors’ garden a fountain burbles in the background as prisoners catch up with their loved ones.

Tree-lined paths lead to a library and computer room. If the watchtowers and razor-wire were taken away, the high-security prison could pass for a community centre.

There are leaflets setting out prisoners’ rights and even a complaints box. A motto over the entrance reads: “The prisoner is not a criminal, but a patient who needs treatment. We are not torturers, we are reformers.”

Although Jordan has a reputation for tolerating the torture of suspects, Inas Swaiss, a human rights activist based in Amman, says there is little sign of physical and mental assaults within Muwaqqar’s walls.

However, there is a strict regime in solitary confinement where Qatada will be taken at first.

“There is no torture inside the prison, outside who knows? But for those in solitary confinement it is not a good life,” she said.

“They lock the doors all day so the prisoners do not go out. They eat their food inside, they have a toilet, shower and sink there too.

“There is a veranda so they can look onto a courtyard garden and get light and air in but it has bars on it. Sometimes you see stray cats going into the cells through the bars because the prisoners feed them and make them pets.

“As far as we know the men aren’t mistreated but of course they complain. At lot of complaints are about the food. They might not like the way the rice is done or they don’t like it when they get all their food for the day at one time so it’s not fresh at dinner time. It’s not home cooking but it’s not terrible.

“These are all Islamist prisoners so the directors of the prison don’t want them meeting each other. They may plan things if they do. There is a lot of shouting through the bars at each other, it’s really loud.”

The solitary confinement section of the prison – known as Muwaqqar II – was completed in 2008 and is the most modern of Jordan’s 14 prisons.

There are about 85 prisoners dotted among its 240 cells divided among three wings. The buildings are two storeys tall and set at right angles to one another.

Walls have been built to stop prisoners on the second floor of one wing communicating with prisoners on the first floor of another. The cells are about six feet by nine feet by 10 feet, containing a shower above a squat toilet, a sink and a bed. This is their bedroom, exercise yard and dining room.

Inmates are allowed to make a couple of short phone calls a week and have visitors. Both are tightly monitored.

One former prisoner, who cannot be named, claims he was mistreated inside Muwaqqar II.

The militant Salafi Muslim said he was arrested during an anti-government protest two years ago and kept in solitary for four months. He said: “They stripped me naked and the guards shouted insults as they beat me. They threw me in a tiny cell with just a thin mattress on the floor.”

The task of checking on behalf of Britain’s Home Office that this does not happen to Qatada while he awaits a retrial will fall to the Adaleh Centre for Human Rights, which has a team of 30 including psychiatrists and prisons specialists. It took eight years of legal argument and a bout of shuttle diplomacy to reach the point where Qatada thought it safe for him to return to Jordan. Home Secretary Theresa May will be furious if anything is done to jeopardise the cleric’s retrial.




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