Muslim pilgrims detained by anti-terror police for 5 hours

27th Sep 2019

Harun Nasruallah

A couple say they were among several Muslim families subjected to “humiliating” searches for five hours at Heathrow Airport upon their return from Hajj last month.

35-year-old Muhammed said his wife was made to remove her hijab to be photographed by counter-terrorism officers; they were also asked their opinions on US President Donald Trump and who they met in Saudi Arabia.

Muhammed said he and his wife had taken a connecting flight from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, to return to the UK. He said: “When we got off the plane, counter-terrorism officers approached my wife and I and asked us to follow them for questioning. It was humiliating; we were taken aside in front of several people who we knew, but they didn’t care about any of that.”

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 gives the police broad powers to interrogate and detain any person at an international airport for up to nine hours. Those detained have no right to silence, have to surrender their phones, computers and passwords and provide fingerprints and DNA.

“They started to question me about what I thought about Donald Trump, nothing about the UK’s political leaders, and then what I thought about the Manchester arena attacks. They even asked what we hope to achieve now that we’re back from the pilgrimage,” he told Metro.

“My relatives were made to wait outside for five hours, when we got home, my wife was really upset, all that good mood was gone.”

Muhammed added that he felt the implementation of Schedule 7 powers were used to target not just him and his wife but also others were clearly “discriminatory and Islamophobic”, and they were criminalised, despite being innocent of any wrongdoing.

He added: “My wife was really scared, especially after being asked to remove her hijab for no reason; it’s a form of trauma. They apologised in the end for any inconvenience. It was just ridiculous.”

According to a study by Human rights group Cage which is supporting Muhammed, over 400,000 incidents of people being stopped at ports and airports, had found that the conviction rate was 0.007 per cent.

One Briton, Omer, who asked only to be identified by his first name, told the Guardian he had been stopped 40 times when returning to the UK since 2005 but has never been convicted of any offence.

Omer said: “I get stopped 95 per cent of the time, coming back from Belgium, France and Italy.” He said he had become so fed up with being repeatedly questioned he often used one-word answers to reply.

A former medic, Omer was stopped at Heathrow returning from Pakistan, after a flight in which he had helped a teenager having a fit. But on leaving the plane he was nevertheless questioned. “This is a law that is almost impossible to beat.”Muslims stopped say that questions frequently focus on their religious beliefs, and they are asked if they pray frequently, if they fast and if they have been to Makkah.

“The whole thing is done in such a way as to make you feel that you are doing something wrong for simply practising Islam,” said a filmmaker who had previously worked for aid organisations in Syria but on this occasion was travelling to Amsterdam via Dover.

In a letter addressed to Anna Soubry, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, Cage Director, Adnan Siddiqui, described the detainment of individuals under Schedule 7 as “a manifestation of structural Islamophobia, which is experienced as harassment”.

Cage International Director, Muhammad Rabbani, said, “Public bodies must uphold their duty to protect the rights of minorities, and it is why we are asking the APPG to urgently investigate this matter with the Home Office.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The use of Schedule 7 is vital to the police in their work to combat terrorism and the authors of this report are misrepresenting facts to fit their pre-determined conclusions. In his 2014 report, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Lord Anderson QC, found no evidence of the power being exercised in a racially discriminatory manner. He also said that one would expect its exercise to be ethnically ‘proportionate’ to the terrorist population that travels through UK ports.”

However Cage argues the Home Office does not respond to Freedom of Information requests breaking down the number of people stopped by their religion. But a study conducted by Cambridge University researchers in 2014 concluded 88 per cent of those stopped were Muslim.

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