Police pay £15k to woman forced to remove her hijab

24th Apr 2020
Police pay £15k to woman forced to remove her hijab

(Credit: Piqsels/public-domain-photo)

Elham Asaad Buaras

A woman who was “bullied and pressurised” to remove her hijab under terror laws at Heathrow Airport in October 2018, has won £15,000 from London’s Metropolitan Police in an out of court settlement last month.

Asiyah (pseudonym) pursued a judicial review after she had to remove her hijab during stop and search under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, a law that allows police and border guards to detain people without suspicion and hold them for up to nine hours at any port of entry.

The Met conceded that removing her hijab and taking (and retaining) her photo, DNA and fingerprints was unlawful and a breach of her human rights due to lack of informed consent.
“Being forced to remove my hijab was the most dehumanising and embarrassing experience of my life. I was made to feel worthless – I felt that my honour had been violated. The fact that the police can behave in such a way without any repercussions is frightening.”

A transcript of an interview with Asiyah shows that police told her, “We can take photographs that we need by force. You might end up being arrested because you wouldn’t let us take a photograph of your hair.” Asiyah’s solicitor Anne McMurdie, said:, “Stopping people on a suspicion-less basis and intruding on their religious observance and private life without any reason is an abuse of a power, which is already very draconian.”

Asiyah won her case with the support of detainee rights’ group CAGE. Its Director Muhammad Rabbani said, “It is clear the police knew they were discriminating against Muslim women. And therefore opted to settle in order to avoid the case setting a precedent for other women that have had their hijab forcibly removed. It’s high time Schedule 7 is scrapped.”

Among the other cases received by CAGE is that of Summayah, who was travelling in a wheelchair and feeling ill when she was stopped at Gatwick Airport after a holiday in Turkey and taken for questioning.

“The final blow was asking me to remove my hijab. By that point, I had been interrogated for over an hour. I felt sick, like I was going to pass out. They threatened me with arrest if I didn’t comply and remove my hijab, so they could take pictures. I felt so dehumanised. This has had a very complex impact on my mental health and life,” said Summayah.

Asiyah says she remains concerned her hijab-less photos might have been widely circulated. “I keep thinking about how men might be looking at me without my hijab, and ..many times a day they are being viewed and how many different men are viewing them. It feels the same as if the police had taken a photo of me naked that was then being looked at by male police officers. I felt my dignity had been taken away, and I had been stripped.”

McMurdie said, “There is nothing to prevent them from sharing [the image] with others like the security services. There is nothing in the law to regulate how long it is kept for who can view it, who it is shared with. One of the evils with this is that the abuse continues.”

Cage recently wrote to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims urging it to investigate the “discriminatory” practice of removing hijabs during border checks.

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