Mounting pressure from the Afghanistan government and human rights lawyers has forced Britain to agree to hand over to the local authorities about 90 suspected militants, including a teenager, being held at a British military base in Afghanistan for more than a year without charges.
The decision, announced by the Ministry of Defence here on Wednesday, followed claims that their detention was illegal and unconstitutional as a suspect could be not held without charge for more than 96 hours barring “exceptional circumstances’’.
Lawyers for eight of the detainees launched legal proceedings in the High Court in London arguing that their detention was unlawful. They said the men were arrested by British soldiers in raids in villages in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, and had been in custody for between eight and 14 months without charges. Citing the case of one prisoner, they said he had not been given access to a lawyer or brought to court.
“He does not know how long he is to remain detained or for what purpose,’’ his lawyer said.
Initially, the British government claimed that releasing the men could endanger its troops but relented as pressure grew after the BBC gave details of the “inhuman’’ detention of 85 suspected insurgents at Camp Bastion, the main British base in Afghanistan.
Confirming that British troops were holding between 80 to 90 alleged suspects, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “We would like nothing more than to be able to hand these people over to the Afghan authorities”.
He said the U.K. was considering “a safe way’’ to transfer the detainees to the Afghan judicial system.
A spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence demanded immediate handover of the prisoners. “After their handover to us, they will be dealt with according to our judicial laws, and the agreements reached with the international community.”