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article imageGrowing UK 'disgust' over Richard O'Dwyer's US extradition order

By Mathew Wace Peck     Mar 15, 2012 in Internet
Public concern over the unequal treatment of UK and US citizens has followed Home Secretary Theresa May’s decision to allow for the extradition to the US of a Sheffield student, Richard O’Dwyer.
As Digital Journal reported yesterday, May signed the order for O’Dwyer’s extradition late on Tuesday. The 23-year-old has been accused by US authorities of copyright infringement by hosting links to pirated films and television programmes on his now-defunct TVShack website.
Late last year, an online petition was set up in support of the 23-year-old, who is currently a student at Sheffield Hallam University. By early 2012, thousands had signed it and, according to his mother, offered “an enormous amount of support”. In early March, speaking to the BBC about the campaign, his mother confided to the BBC that she, “[doesn’t] think the government takes any notice of petitions, but I will make sure they do receive it and see some of the comments that people have left.”
On her blog, # Extradition The Fight of Our Lives, she says, “I am fighting against my own government who are assisting the US in extraditing my son in breach of his Human Rights.”
According to the blog, the family’s solicitor received a fax from May just five hours before the deadline, though the actual letter was received seven hours past it. Julia O’Dwyer writes: “You will see that in order for Richard to be shipped off to the US just 4 lines of text and a rubber stamp is all that is required [...] this is the very first and only piece of communication we have received since this whole extradition nightmare began. I find that a despicable way to treat someone.”
However, according to British law, O’Dwyer may well not have committed any crime. Certainly, the UK Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has stated previously that his conduct “was not and still is not considered to be in the category of serious".
Meanwhile, she told the Harrow Observer that the government’s decision would be detrimental to her son’s future: “[His] life – his studies, work opportunities, financial security – is being disrupted, for who knows how long, because [they have] not introduced the much-needed changes to the extradition law.”
Yesterday’s Digital Journal piece reported on the similarities being made between the O’Dwyer case and that of Kim Dotcom – the founder of the file-sharing website Megaupload.com – whose extradition from New Zealand the US authorities are seeking.
However, it goes on to say that O’Dwyer’s TVShack “did not physically host any illegal material or allow users to commit crimes by uploading copyrighted items [but] contained links to other websites […] on par with the services Google offers”.
Today, comments in support of O'Dwyer and in oppostion to the treaty have been appearing all over the Internet – on newspaper websites, social-networking sites, blogs and elsewhere.
Unbalanced and unequal
The US–UK extradition treaty was introduced in 2003 – during Tony Blair’s premiership – by the Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett. Human-rights campaigners raised concerns at the time about the unbalanced nature of the agreement, and have continued to do so. Other controversial cases involving British citizens include thos of Christopher Tappin and Gary McKinnon.
In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Richard’s mother, Julia O’Dwyer, criticised the UK’s acquiescence America. “The US is coming for the young [Richard], the old [Christopher Tappin] and the ill [Gary McKinnon, who has Asperger’s] and our government is paving the way,” she said.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has added its voice to the growing calls for action by urging the British government to renegotiate the treaty.
Yesterday, Iain Martin, the political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, wrote about the issue, highlighting that the Conservatives in government were not following up on what they’s promised in opposition. He said, in no uncertain terms, “This is becoming chilling. What on earth is wrong with ministers? Why are the Conservatives in the coalition so frightened of taking on the Americans? In opposition they indicated that they would be demanding a renegotiation of the treaty but now they shrug their shoulders apologetically […] Part of the difficulty is the terrible crawling that British governments nowadays feel they must do towards American presidents and governments [and] I say that as a robust Atlanticist.”
Martin believed, however, that Cameron and Obama were both pragmatic politicians and that “[Cameron] must explain [to Obama] that the extradition treaty is of growing concern in Britain”, and ended by saying, “The Government’s fundamental duty is to protect its citizens. This treaty does not treat them fairly and, as a result, it is going to have to be overhauled urgently or scrapped.”
This afternoon, it has emerged that both governments have agreed to look at the unbalanced agreement again, with ITV News reporting that Cameron had raised the issue with Obama, and that the “two leaders agreed to ask [their respective] officials to meet to discuss concerns with the accord and explore ways that more cases could be heard in UK courts”. However, it is understood that the Prime Minister did not discuss individual cases with the President.
According to The Inquirer, Cameron confirmed that he’d had the discussion with Obama: “I raised this issue with President Obama today. We had a good discussion. We will be following this up with further talks between our teams.”
The BBC reports that O’Dwyer has 14 days from the time of notification of extradition to appeal against it, which, in his case, is 26 March.
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