Britain Won't Block The Death Penalty For 'Isis Beatles Duo'

Britain Won’t Block The Death Penalty For ‘Isis Beatles Duo’. Here’s Why It Matters.

The UK will not try to block the death penalty for two men accused of being part of Islamic State, with critics calling it a “huge step backwards” for human rights.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, who both grew up in west London, were arrested in Syria in January, with US officials believing they had beheaded more than 27 hostages and tortured many more.

However, after their arrest, they were stripped of their British citizenship and effectively became stateless – leaving questions over where in the world they should be tried.

Now, in a letter leaked to the Telegraph, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has suggested prosecution in the US is the best course of action – and that the UK wouldn’t insist against the death penalty.

Hang On, Who Are The ‘Isis Beatles’ Cell?

Mohammed Emwazi (also known as Jihadi John), Aine Davis, Alexanda Kotey, and El Shafee Elsheikh were a group of four men from London who were radicalised and all ended up in the same Isis cell, where they guarded, tortured and killed Isis hostages in Iraq and Syria.

They became known as the Isis Beatles after hostages revealed they were each known by the name of one of The Beatles – John, Ringo, George, and Paul.

Aine was arrested near Istanbul in 2015, and in 2017 was convicted in Turkey of being a senior member of a terrorist organisation.

Mohammed, who fronted a number of propaganda videos for the terrorist group, was killed by a drone strike in November 2015.

The group were responsible for the deaths of Briton and voluntary humanitarian aid worker Alan Henning, as well as David Haines, a British aid worker who was beheaded in 2014.

And What Has Sajid Javid Said – Or Not Said?

Sajid Javid has not sought assurances about the use of the death penalty for the beatles isis cell

Image Credit: Find a Future / Flickr

The letter, published in full by The Telegraph, says the Government “does not currently intend to request, nor actively encourage, the transfer of Kotey and El-Sheikh to the UK”, adding that “in this instance, we believe that a successful federal prosecution is the US is more likely to be possible […] We are therefore committed to assisting the US with a federal prosecution.”

We believe that a successful federal prosecution in the US is more likely to be possible. The US currently has additional charges for terrorism offences which are not available under UK criminal law […] We are therefore committed to assisting the US with a federal prosecution.

Sajid Javid

It’s not unheard of for the UK to extradite people to be tried for their crimes elsewhere, however, it’s the next paragraph where things get a bit interesting.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid says he believes there are “strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought”. Essentially, the UK won’t insist that the death penalty isn’t an option when the pair are tried.

I am of the view there are strong reasons for not requring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.

Sajid Javid

He does go on to say that this decision “does not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases more generally, nor the UK Government’s stance on the global abolition of the death penalty.” This hasn’t gone down well with human rights organisations, however, who have called the move a ‘huge step backwards’.

Is This A Big Shift In Policy?

David Blunkett, former Home Secretary, said no one would be sent to the US if there was the threat of the death penalty. Image Credit: Working Word / Flickr

The use of capital punishment is a major human rights issue, and is now widely accepted to be a serious violation.

In the 1950s, when the Human Rights Convention was drafted, the death penalty was not considered to violate international standards. However, this changed in the 1980s, with the introduction of Protocol 6, which prohibited use of the death penalty except in times of war. In 2003, Protocol 6 was replaced by Protocol 13, which requires states to completely abolish the death penalty in all circumstances, even for acts committed in times of war. The UK government has signed and ratified both of these protocols, and is therefore legally bound to adhere to them.

Capital punishment is the ultimate denial of life – it is always cruel and unnecessary. It doesn’t deter crime, and it means that rehabilitation is not an option.

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International’s Head of Advocacy and Programmes

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International’s Head of Advocacy and Programmes, explains: “Capital punishment is the ultimate denial of life – it is always cruel and unnecessary. It doesn’t deter crime, and it means that rehabilitation is not an option.” Indeed, multiple studies in both the USA and across the globe have been unable to prove that executions deter criminals.

Speaking about the Home Secretary’s leaked letter, he continues: “This is a deeply worrying development. The Home Secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain’s long-standing position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast-iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

“While the alleged crimes of Alexanda Kotey and Shafee El-Sheikh are appalling, the UK’s principled opposition to the cruelty of the death penalty isn’t something it should compromise.”

While the alleged crimes of Alexanda Kotey and Shafee El-Sheikh are appalling, the UK’s principled opposition to the cruelty of the death penalty isn’t something it should compromise on.

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International’s Head of Advocacy and Programmes

But has there always been an opposition to the death penalty from the UK? Looking at the record it would appear so. The last execution to take place in the UK was in 1964, and previous Home Secretaries have stressed that people would not be sent to the USA if there was the chance the death penalty would be used.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and previous Foreign Secretary Jack Straw have also previously tried to intervene in death penalty cases in the US, which, outside of the EU, is one of the UK’s biggest extradition partners.

Indeed, the UK government’s own website clearly states that extradition should not take place if the accused could face the death penalty. This is also specifically prohibited by the Extradition Act (2003).

This is clearly a significant shift in the UK’s stance, and it has huge implications for our human rights. However, whether this is a trend that’s set to continue – or what it means for our statute book – remains to be seen.

Featured Image: Mohammed Emwazi, Aine Davis, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh (L to R). Met Police handout.

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About the Author

Jem Collins

Strategic Impact Director
Jem is the Strategic Impact Director for RightsInfo, working on increasing our reach across the UK and measuring our impact. Previously she was the News and Social Media Editor. She is also passionate about helping young people into the media and runs Journo Resources, a start-up which helps young people into the media, as well as serving as a trustee of the Student Publication Association. She is also one of the co-founders of The Second Source, a group to help end harassment in the media. Email Jem View all posts by Jem Collins.
Britain Won’t Block The Death Penalty For ‘Isis Beatles Duo’. Here’s Why It Matters.
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