Haneef’s detention without charge draws flak

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : As Mohammad Haneef, an Indian doctor, spent his 10th day in detention in Brisbane Thursday in connection with the British terror plot, criticism mounted against Australia's anti-terrorism laws.

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Australia's Law Council has condemned the way police are using the Australian federal government's counter-terrorism laws to detain Haneef in a watch-house without charge.

Law Council president Tim Bugg told the local media, "Haneef is now in the 10th day of his detention, his court proceedings will not resume until tomorrow (Friday) and no one can offer a deadline for when he will be either charged or released. This is indefinite detention by any other name."

Amnesty International's spokeswoman in Australia Nicole Bieske said in a statement, "This situation has become far worse than we originally feared when the legislation was introduced. Compounding the problem is that it is very hard for his (Haneef) lawyer to properly represent Haneef, when he doesn't have full access to the information about his client's case."

The laws place no cap on the length of time a person can be held in custody. The human rights group said, "The whole situation flies in the face of the rule of law. If his case goes to trial the presumption of innocence has already been significantly affected. If he is released he (Haneef) – will not be able to return to normal life without suspicion."

Kirk McKenzie, a partner in a Sydney law firm and president of the opposition Labour Party's North Sydney Branch, has written in an Online magazine, New Matilda, "Whether Mohammad Haneef is ever charged with a criminal offence or not, he will go down in Australian legal history.

"There is little doubt that, exceptional cases aside, Haneef is the first person ever to be detained for more than 24 hours without being charged with a criminal offence. The circumstances of Haneef's detention are clouded in mystery."

Various experts, politicians and others have been raising concerns about the laws, which are being called "unconstitutional", "draconian", an "attack on traditional Australian freedoms and protections", and "bad legislation".

McKenzie writes, "Haneef could have been released after 24 hours, then been placed under surveillance with his telephone tapped, and he would have been arrested immediately if he had broken the law."

Haneef, a registrar working at the Gold Coast Hospital, was arrested July 2 at Brisbane airport. He is being held under the counter-terrorism laws and cannot apply for bail. His case will come up for hearing in the Brisbane Magistrate's Court again Friday.

Haneef is yet be questioned as police continue to detain him using the "dead time" provisions of the Crimes Act. His lawyer Peter Russo told the media that he was hoping the court hearing on whether or not the Australian Federal Police (AFP) can detain his client for a further three days would proceed Friday.

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson has told the local media that Haneef is being well looked after. Atkinson said, "He has absolute privacy – he's there by himself. We've made suitable arrangements, we believe, in terms of sunlight, exercise, food."

AFP Thursday reportedly searched a Queensland Health building in Brisbane, seeking evidence relating to the case, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In this federal election year, security has been catapulted to being one of the main poll issues. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has been defending the laws and the way police have handled the case. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has also said that if a Labour Government comes to power it will keep the counter-terrorism laws in place.

(Neena Bhandari can be contacted at [email protected])