A Palestinian who had been tortured before his arrival in Britain has gone on hunger strike after having been held for 13 months without charge.
Mahmoud Abu Rideh is detained under anti-terrorism provisions. He was transferred from Belmarsh high security prison to Broadmoor high security mental hospital last August under the orders of a judge, because he was seriously mentally ill.
Mr Abu Rideh has gone on hunger strike before, and the last occasion saw him confined to a wheelchair. Friends and family claim he is refusing food and liquids because he believes he is the victim of racism in the hospital, and is protesting that he is not allowed to telephone his family until after 7.30pm, when his five children are in bed.
He was arrested on December 19 2001 under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. The Home Office believes he has associations with international terrorism and may have links with al-Qaida. He denies this. Yesterday the Home Office declined to comment on the case.
An asylum seeker who came to Britain in 1995, Mr Abu Rideh was being treated for severe post-traumatic stress disorder following torture at the hands of Israelis when a teenager living in Gaza. His detention in Belmarsh, in south-east London, caused flashbacks.
Last year, in a ruling that was embarrassing for the home secretary, David Blunkett, Mr Justice Collins said that it would be wrong for Mr Abu Rideh to remain in custody and he needed hospital treatment. Broadmoor psychiatrists who visited him in Belmarsh prison told the home secretary that he should be freed into the care of a mental hospital nearer to his family in London, but he was transferred to Broadmoor, in Berkshire, which houses some of Britain’s most dangerous prisoners.
Yesterday, Mr Abu Rideh’s former consultant psychologist said that his mental state was obviously deteriorating. Ian Robbins said: “He is a man who is given to fairly extreme responses emotionally. He is quite severely mentally damaged, and I think he doesn’t actually have a lot of control over his own actions.
“If it was a hunger strike, I would be really happy, as it would be a sign that it was under voluntary control.
“He develops a sort of polarised thinking; he can’t think of more than one option, particularly when he gets exceedingly distressed, when he has a sense of complete hopelessness,” said Prof Robbins. “I am sure he is incredibly pessimistic about his chances of getting out. Part of the problem is having no end point to work to.”
A spokesman for Amnesty International said it was following the case. John Wadham, director of Liberty, said: ” [Given] the fact this detention is indefinite, and he won’t ever be able to defend himself properly, because he can’t see details of allegations against him, it’s not surprising he’s doing this [hunger strike].”
Last night Mr Abu Rideh’s wife, who does not want to be named, said he was innocent and had done nothing wrong.