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Australian experts question Haneef’s visa cancellation

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : The Australian government’s decision to revoke Indian doctor Muhammad Haneef’s visa hours after he was granted bail has drawn protests in this country, with experts questioning the move.

Even as India summoned Australia’s envoy to New Delhi to voice concern over the development, human rights activists said that Canberra’s move appeared to cast aspersions on the magistrate who ordered Haneef, 27, freed on bail.

Marion Le, a renowned rights advocate and registered migration agent, told IANS: “I think that there is a problem with the way this so-called cancellation has been done.

“The visa holder is supposed to be first given a Notice of Intention to Cancel a Visa before it can be done and he then has 28 days to dispute the intention. The ombudsman has just concluded a review of other such cancellations which were done without proper notice and they had to be restored.”

She added: “Technically it is a winnable case.”

Haneef, charged in the failed British bomb plots, was granted bail by Brisbane Magistrate Jacqui Payne on the condition he provides a surety of AU$10,000 and reports to the Southport police station in Queensland state thrice a week.

Payne ruled Haneef should be released into the community pending his trial for supporting a terrorist organisation by “recklessly” giving his mobile phone SIM card to people planning the British attacks.

Without a valid visa, Haneef, who hails from Bangalore and was arrested July 2, will be deported to India once criminal proceedings are finalised. His lawyer Peter Russo has planned to delay posting bail pending the appeal.

Kirk McKenzie, a prominent lawyer and member of the Human Rights Committee and Law Society of New South Wales, was equally concerned.

“The government¹s immediate cancellation of his visa may be justified as a matter of law but it seems to be implied criticism of the magistrate¹s bail decision,” he said.

“I think this is more about the precarious political position of the government, with opinion polls predicting a landslide victory to the Labour opposition at the elections which are due before the end of the year.

“The government seems to be hoping that if it manages to divert public attention to issues of safety and security, it will change public sentiment towards it. However, I suspect it will just lead to a perception that the government is relying on a security scare campaign to attempt to revive its fortunes.”

McKenzie, a partner in the Syndey Law firm Haylen McKenzie, said: “The magistrate who granted him bail seems unconvinced that there is a strong case against him and given that there is a presumption against bail for terrorism offences and that the magistrate had to be satisfied that there were ‘exceptional circumstances’ in order to grant bail, she must have come to the conclusion that Haneef was not a threat to the community, should he be released at this stage.”

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who revoked the visa, said Haneef would be deported regardless of the outcome of criminal proceedings against him.

In seeking a court order to detain Haneef, police alleged that on his departure from Britain a year ago he had left a SIM card that was used by of some of those now in detention in Britain. He is related to brothers Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed, who are in custody in Britain.

Meanwhile, the Australia India Business Council (AIBC) has appealed to government, business and community leaders as well as the media to make every effort to ensure that the interrogation of Haneef, an Indian, does not have an unreasonable and unfair negative impact on the many Australian citizens, permanent residents, temporary business visa holders, tourists and students of Indian origin living in Australia.

A statement issued by AIBC national chairman Brian Hayes QC says: “In Australia the Rule of Law and the ‘presumption of innocence’ are paramount. AIBC urges all Australians to respect these principles and to avoid ethnic, religious, professional or any other form of labelling that would apply suspicion of possible wrongdoing by one or a few individuals to stigmatise an entire ethnic, racial, national or professional group or community.”

The AIBC statement urges policy makers, employers, service providers and opinion leaders not to introduce, promote or tolerate any discriminatory practices towards people of Indian origin in relation to employment, migration, citizenship, visa processing, admission into educational institutions and access to services.

AIBC is the only national body in Australia focusing on the promotion of stronger bilateral business and trade links between this country and India.

The statement adds: “Whatever the outcome of current police investigations, we trust that the strong ties between Australia and India and the excellent relations between Australian residents of Indian origin and the wider Australian community will continue to grow stronger as will bilateral business links. This will ensure ongoing benefits to Australia and all Australians.”