why you should fight back

There are a million reasons why you might wish to fight back. 

To get some justice, of course. After being kicked around, you might wish to do something about it. I found it empowering to a degree. We felt cheated and lied to over the course of almost a decade of judicial proceedings. We had to do something.  

There are many who simply plead guilty, accept the sentence, never appear on anyone’s radar, do the time and return to the UK. For those people, none of this will be relevant. If that's not you or your loved ones, read on. 

If you are not yet in prison, you might consider getting out of the country no matter what. I’ve mentioned people smugglers and bribery, but even if you get back home, you might face extradition. Extradition is a huge subject, one that is again often misused by governments, but in a nutshell there’s the possibility you’ll be sent back to the country you escaped from. 

Extradition is supposedly based on the confidence each nation state has in the community of states.

The UK has its own extradition problems. The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is often criticised. Both these subjects have had much ink spilled on them. If they affect you, do your research and get trusted advice.

the greys

I must mention what I call the ‘greys’: people who were on bail and crossed into another country with no fanfare, subsequently managing to get back home. 

Neither the country in which they were charged nor the UK chased them. It seems such people passed into a grey, phantom-zone existence. They simply got on with their lives. Of course, they’re somewhat careful about where they holiday! 

Also in my grey zone are those who served an overseas prison sentence that would not have resulted in a UK prison sentence – for example, human rights activists. What is the status of such people when they return to the UK? When they travel or apply for a visa, a mortgage or a job, and they’re asked whether they have a criminal record, how do they answer?

build your campaign

To build your campaign, you need time, money, people and energy. Consider speaking to us at Arrested Abroad.

You have to decide whether to go public or not. If not, then you can’t use social media. If you are going public with your cause, think about fundraising using Crowdfunding and raising your profile through dedicated social media sites - you are going to need money to fight with. 

Either way, in both cases, you have to research the country concerned first. 

  • Find a trusted interpreter
  • Learn about the country’s judicial system and read up on similar cases. For example, learn and perhaps obtain support from the campaigns of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Chennai Six, Andrew Symeou, Janis Sharp, Jagtar Singh, Madeleine McCann and Murdered Abroad. There are hundreds of others
  • Become an expert on the country. Read a news aggregator like Flipboard. Use Twitter and follow everything about the country on it. Learn from others. Read their local news every day. Find English sites that cover the country. Contact those who know more
  • In preparation for lobbying, learn about which MPs, Members of the House of Lords, human rights groups, NGOs, media, celebrities, lawyers, activists, writers, clergy and sports people have an interest in the country. Follow them on Twitter too
  • Locate the country’s embassy in London and arrange to meet their ambassador. Be careful about approaching local opposition politicians in the country concerned – that may backfire on you
  • Never be rude. You will be amazed at how you no longer fear approaching people to ask for help

writing for support

When writing for support:

  • Make sure you write clearly and politely
  • Don’t demand anything. You’re seeking their help, remember
  • Don’t alienate anyone. You can’t afford it
  • Write just one page initially. It’s vital you write as well as you can
  • Keep it simple. Give them solutions, not problems – set out what you wish them to do

In our case, after we established trust, I would always draft the sort of letters I wished them to write on our behalf. It helped them and us. By that means, we were all clear about what we were aiming for and the points we wanted to get across. 

At the beginning, however, they have no idea who you are. They don’t know your case. They can’t trust you yet. You could be making all this up. 

It might take a year or more of communication to build trust. Requesting an initial meeting might be a good first step. 

Our Arrested Abroad experts and networks can help you make your representations to the right people with appropriately worded communications. 

the media

If you wish to go to the media, be careful. 

It can be a double-edged sword. It will boil down to how sympathetic your case is. 

I’ve mentioned this before. The public can be unforgiving, even vicious. Remember that your story might be online forever. 

I found the British media to be good. A number of them wanted to publish, but as a family we decided not to. The media respected our decision. We always thought, “If something really bad happens, we can at least blow the story and go public.” I think it really depends on your case. 

your local mp

Your local MP can also be called upon. 

I found this to be a mixed bag. Some politicians were great, others were not. Many had no idea what to do, hence it can be helpful to draft for them. Britain’s political parties also responded in a mixed way, with none really better than the other. 

Many MPs or parties will initially refer you to the Foreign Office and tell you they can’t do much beyond that.

Research your MP and their party. Find their pro-human rights comments. MPs have varied interests and subjects that they specialise in. 

Obtain examples of what they’ve said about human rights that you can use to diplomatically get them on your side. Your points, your argument and your case all need to be strongly and intelligently presented. 

the fco (again)

The same goes for the Foreign Office. You now know their own internal guidance. You have to quote that back to them, chapter and verse. You must ask them, “Has our case now been referred to the FCO pro bono human rights lawyers or not?” and “Does the FCO believe that our trials did or did not meet international fair-trial standards?” 

They might, as in our case, bounce the ball back to you by saying, “We need to have it in writing from your local lawyer as to how he/she believes your trial was unfair.” If so, get that done too, as we did. Admittedly, the FCO did then ignore that response. Be aware that it can go on like that for years. Consular support’ in relation to unfair trials (and much else) can quickly feel like a hollow phrase.

You must also keep a record of who said what and when. This is because officers will come and go, and promises made will often be ignored or overlooked. 

You must chase officers constantly and remind them of their obligations and previous comments. I made formal complaints about two UK-based officers. One complaint was dismissed and the other was partially upheld. 

Keep all the records, because over the years you can use them to prove they said the opposite years beforehand, or to remind them of what they promised. I’m afraid it can become a full-time job that will take over your life.

get physical

If you wish, you can get physical. 

You can, as others have done, demonstrate outside the FCO in King Charles Street

Get some placards printed to help you. Another campaign organiser told me she’d considered chaining herself to the gates of Buckingham Palace. 

You can run a boycotting campaign, email tsunami and various other (non-violent) operations.

mental attitude

Your drive and your mental attitude are everything. The people in the campaigns above have one thing in common: they never gave up. 

A metaphor I came to use was that of an icebreaker. You need to keep going, slow and steady, night and day, pushing through the crap and the blockages and the lies and the “It can’t be done” excuses. You must fight like water. When faced with a barrier, you must go over it or under it or around it. 

You must find different ways of approaching the barrier and overcoming it, of getting around it and of moving on. Don’t just have a plan B; you need plans all the way to Z. 

Don’t wait and pin your hopes on your current plan; consider what you are going to do next, and after that, and after that, in the event that it fails. That special email or phone call that solves it all isn’t going to appear.

Indeed, I found it liberating when we were losing so badly that I thought, “We may as well start pushing back – there’s nothing else to lose.” Call it ownership, perhaps. 

groups that can help

Our Arrested Abroad team can help you. 

As you study your particular country, you’ll come across British lawyers who’ve been involved in some way with it. Call them. A couple of times a year, I would sit down and phone a dozen or more British lawyers and human rights organisations who I knew had experience with my country. 

With lawyers, I often couldn’t get past their secretary. Other times, they would tell me that they’d charge £500 an hour to discuss my case. However, two or three of them did respond, were intrigued and did help. 

The subject of British lawyers is interesting. It’s unlikely you’ll find a British lawyer who can advise you on Peruvian or Zambian or Lithuanian or Japanese law, much less represent you in those countries. You should have a better chance if the country is the US or Canada or Australia, although you need to find a criminal defence lawyer, not just a commercial or immigration one. 

I engaged Scottish and English lawyers. They followed our case over the years, and, in short, though they would tell me what should happen with regard to trials and evidence and such, in the end they were almost as frustrated as we were with the foreign judicial system we were dealing with. 

The human rights organisations that I contacted all tended to explain to me that my kind of case wasn’t quite their area, and their standard suggestion was to contact the Foreign Office. Bear in mind you’re not asking these people to assault the gates of the foreign embassy in London; you’re merely asking them to write a letter of support (which you can draft) in order to add their voice to the growing body of support that’s forming. It can be very dispiriting, though, and is perhaps the reason why there are so many groups out there trying to help each other. It’s not all darkness.