London – Premiering at the prestigious Sheffield International Documentary Festival on June 15th and 17th [1], Phantom Parrot is a powerful film offering unprecedented access to the inner workings of CAGE over six years. This documentary showcases the relentless efforts of activists fighting for justice and accountability, refusing to be silenced or intimidated.

Directed by award winning filmmaker, Kate Stonehill, Phantom Parrot sheds light on the alarming rise of the surveillance state and exposes the weaponization of technology, violating our collective right to privacy. The unjust arrest of Muhammad Rabbani in 2017 under Schedule 7 powers, when he refused to surrender his device passwords at London’s Heathrow Airport [2][3], reveals the troubling misuse of power. Rabbani’s devices contained legally privileged information implicating high-ranking FBI officials and obtained from a torture survivor [3].

The heart-wrenching case of Ali Al-Marri, a torture survivor seeking justice, takes center stage in Phantom Parrot. CAGE has been at the forefront of Al-Marri’s campaign to hold his abusers accountable, uncovering the complicity of six senior officials in his torture, including former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who presents himself as an anti-torture advocate [4]. The UK premiere of Phantom Parrot at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival, coinciding with Torture Awareness Month, is of utmost significance. The film exposes the British government’s role in strengthening the surveillance state and its disregard for the confidentiality and privacy of torture survivors.

The documentary has received positive appraisal since its world premiere at The Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival in March [5]. Critics have described the film as one that “unfolds like a good reportage – and a thriller” [6], praising Kate Stonehill’s skillful and “cleverly reconstructed” cinematography [7] and with “Muhammad Rabbani as the protagonist, you’ll be inspired to speak out before it’s too late.” [8]. 

Muhammad Rabbani, Managing Director for CAGE, said:

“The process of creating this film has been a challenging and demanding journey. The documentary serves as a testament to the relentless efforts of CAGE in advocating for victims of state abuse and pushing back against government encroachments. That the documentary will be screened at the highly acclaimed Sheffield DocFest and during Torture Awareness Month highlights the importance of fighting back against state surveillance and expanded police powers. The film is not about me, but rather about the brave survivors who place their trust in us to fight for their rights. I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Kate Stonehill and everyone involved in the production of this documentary.”

Kate Stonehill, director of Phantom Parrot, said:

“When I met Rabbani and came to learn about the situation he was in, I was immediately drawn in by the many questions that I felt his case would unravel. My hope is that the film ignites a discussion about the ways that emerging technologies are used more broadly in policing and surveillance. These technologies represent an expansion of police power — yet too often, there is a troubling lack of transparency about how they are used. How many of us actually understand what a search of a phone entails? I made this film to bring audiences closer to the questions at the heart of Rabbani’s case. I believe that stories such as this can help us understand one of the critical issues of our time — digital privacy — by offering a window into what happens to our ability to challenge power structures when it is eroded.” [9].

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)