When terror probes and racial profiling go hand in hand

By Murali Krishnan

Mohammed Asif Ali, the second Indian doctor detained in Australia in connection with the UK terror plots, was released Wednesday without charge and declared innocent. Never mind the ordeal he underwent for three punishing days and the widespread negative publicity that led him to seriously consider quitting his post at Queensland's Gold Coast hospital.

Support TwoCircles

"As with a lot of investigations, a lot of people are spoken to and he's (Ali) back in the community," declared Australian federal police commissioner Mick Keelty. How gracious!

Like Ali, Haneef Mohammed, the first doctor taken into custody in Australia, may also be discharged late Friday when his detention ends. The police might discover that the SIM card he had bought in Britain for a mobile phone and which was recovered from Mohammad Jamil Asha, a Jordanian national, who is also in custody, was accidental.

Sure, unearthing terrorist missions at an inchoate stage, prior to harm, has acquired a sense of great urgency especially in Britain where levels of hysteria and paranoia have reached extreme proportions after the 7/7 train attacks. Do you know how many times a day the average Londoner is caught on CCTV cameras? Three hundred times.

But in the fight against terrorism, a fine distinction has to be drawn by the police and the security establishment when they sanction torture and humiliation, which leave behind permanent mental and physical scars.

Remember the killing of Brazilian legal immigrant Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot seven times in the head by the London police soon after the underground bombings. The police falsely claimed that he was wearing bulky clothing and that he had vaulted the ticket barriers in running away from them.

For their botched job, the Metropolitan police offered de Menezes' parents 15,000 pounds in compensation and issued an apology saying they had mistaken him for a suspect in the previous day's failed bombings.

After the Madrid blasts of March 2004, police had detained two or three Gujarati traders from the city because some SIM cards recovered by the police during their investigation had been bought from these traders.

Investigations later proved that these traders were completely unaware of the background of the persons to whom they had sold the cards and the purpose for which they were buying them. The traders were released "honourably".

More recently, Dutch authorities detained 12 Indians in a Northwest Airlines flight over frivolous suspicion of the airline staff. They returned to Amsterdam, escorted by fighter jets and were detained for more than 24 hours. The 12, all from Mumbai, were set free after prosecutors said they found no evidence of explosives or a terror threat.

The issue of racial profiling has long been a sore spot for the Black and Asian communities in Britain. For years, much before the deadly bombings of July 7, 2005, the police have stopped, patted down and detained legions of Black, Asian and Muslim officials, doctors, athletes, and business professionals.

But with the terror war now in full swing in Britain, and fears that more bombings and attacks could happen, officials are in no mood to do much to protect against blatant rights abuses.

(Murali Krishnan can be contacted at [email protected])