Police want to hold Haneef; overseas doctors decry ‘media circus’

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : The Australian Federal Police (AFP) made another application Monday to continue detaining without charge Indian doctor Muhammad Haneef, who has been in police custody in Brisbane since July 2 for the foiled bomb attacks in London and Glasgow, even as the head of a doctors' body decried the "media circus" surrounding the episode that might put all overseas doctors in Australia under a cloud.

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Haneef, the 27-year-old registrar of a Gold Coast hospital, has been held in custody under Australian counter-terrorism laws. Prime Minister John Howard said: "They (the laws) are being tried for the first time, not only in this case but in some other cases.

"If the laws turn out to be inadequate then the Government will look at making them more adequate. But I'm not saying that they're inadequate, it's too early. This is new territory, but it's territory that we'll have to get used to for many years into the future."

The police had to either charge Haneef or make another application to extend his detention, which expired Monday. However, there is no limit to how long he may be detained.

Meanwhile, Andrew Schwartz, the President of Australian Doctors Trained Overseas, told IANS that he was highly disappointed by the way this inquest had been played up by the media.

Schwartz said: "This is not normal police procedure to have this media circus. What purpose does it serve to publicise every little move? This unnecessary publicity will make the Australian public wary of going to overseas trained doctors and it will make overseas trained doctors wary of coming to work in Australia.

"Australia's going to be dependent for many more years on overseas trained doctors," he told IANS. Quoting a personal example, Schwartz said: "My wife comes from Argentina and there it was sufficient to be in the address book of a suspected terrorist for another individual to become a suspected terrorist. In these doctors' cases, it is similar".

The police have been interrogating Haneef in connection with foiled bomb attacks in Britain and according to media reports here, "his connection with an underground network of radical Islamist doctors".

The police are examining more than 30,000 documents seized in raids across Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, including files on Haneef's laptop and mobile phone SIM card left with the alleged UK bombers. They are also tracking his bank transactions.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Haneef appeared to have tried to leave the country "rather hurriedly" on a one-way ticket. But Haneef's family explained that this was to see his newborn child and his wife, who was ill.

Ruddock told Southern Cross Broadcasting "That may be well the reason, but certainly the appearance was that his intention (was) to leave with speed. The further explanations that have been offered may be reasonable but they may also be a cover for something else".

Ruddock also didn't rule out the possibility that other foreign doctors interviewed in Australia, but later released by the police, would be interrogated again.

While working in Gold Coast, Haneef is said to have visited Sydney. Channel Seven showed pictures of Haneef and his wife enjoying themselves at Sydney Aquarium.

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo said he had finally been given material pertaining to his client's detention. Russo told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): "There might be some more material being made available today".

Earlier Monday, Russo had told the ABC, "It's difficult to work out what has actually happened because the only source of information that I have really is the media".

He told the ABC: "It's very unfair. The only way you can get a fair and balanced hearing is if both parties have an opportunity to first of all view each other's material and then make submissions based on the information that's before the magistrate and also the opportunity to get some instructions in relation to the allegations – if any – that are being made."

Russo said: "The person has been detained for questioning only, it's not a person who's been charged with an offence or is about to be charged with an offence."

Apart from the investigators, Russo, it appears, has been the only contact Haneef has had since the night of July 5.

The lawyer told the ABC: "From when I became involved on Thursday night I understand I've been the only contact that he's had. At this stage he hasn't (spoken to anyone else), but my understanding is there was permission given sometime today for him to be able to speak with his wife in India."

According to Ruddock, it was legal for police to withhold information from the lawyer as his client had not yet been charged.

Ruddock told the ABC: "If he were charged he would have certain information made available to him. But when you're questioning people and you don't know where the questioning is going yourself, it seems very novel to involve defence counsel in assisting you with your inquiries with helping with developing the questions you might ask."

Russo said his client had indicated that he was doing his best to cooperate with the police.

The lawyer said: "My understanding is that he has been doing his best to answer any of the queries that the Australian Federal Police have had. He's obviously made a request to me that he'd prefer to be in the community rather than where he is".

Meanwhile, 26-year-old Mohammed Asif Ali, the other doctor arrested in Brisbane and later released, has not returned to work despite Queensland State Health Minister Stephen Robertson saying "he's shown himself to be a good doctor and very popular. We want him back because we need his work".

The Gold Coast Hospital management is hoping that Ali will get back to work.