Haneef breathes free air, but ain’t going home yet

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : As the motorcade drove Muhammad Haneef out of the Wolston Correctional Centre in Brisbane, total freedom remains elusive for the Indian doctor despite the case against him collapsing.

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After 25 days in detention, the Australian government absolved him of charges of supporting terrorism, amid demands that those behind the tragedy of errors must quit and that the Indian doctor be sent home honourably.

The Australian Federal Police has admitted that there were irregularities in evidence and there was no prospect of conviction and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has acknowledged making "mistakes", but no one has taken responsibility for the blunders.

There was no apology for Haneef from those responsible for the failures in his case. As the blame game begins, Prime Minister John Howard is backing his Immigration Minister's action to cancel Haneef's visa.

Haneef is spending the night in an undisclosed residence in Brisbane. His Gold Coast apartment is "uninhabitable" after damage caused by two AFP searches.

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo told the media, "He (Haneef) asked me to extend his thanks to his supporters out in the community that he's become aware of over the last couple of days. He's keen to thank all his supporters and he wants, obviously, to thank the press but he can't do that while this order is on him."

Haneef will be allowed to live in residential detention and move about in the community.

The 27-year-old Gold Coast registrar, who was arrested July 2, was not in court when the Commonwealth DPP, who was reviewing all the material in the case, dropped the charges.

He was still in solitary confinement in Brisbane's high security Wolston Correctional Centre where he has been held since July 18 on charges of supporting a terrorist organisation by "recklessly" giving his mobile phone SIM card to people planning the British bomb attacks.

But the battle is only half won for the doctor, whose 457 work visa was cancelled by Australian authorities hours after he was granted bail by the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

People across Australia have been outraged with the manner the Haneef case has been handled. Citizens and the Green Party are demanding the resignation of Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Kevin Andrews, who had cancelled Haneef's visa.

The minister was today standing by his earlier decision. He said that while he is seeking further legal advice from the Commonwealth Solicitor-General about whether he would need to reverse his decision to cancel Haneef's visa, the doctor can live in residential detention.

The minister told newspersons, "That means that rather than being detained in immigration custody, namely in Villawood or some facility such as that, he will be released into residential detention which means that he can reside at his unit on the Gold Coast. Or if he wishes to reside somewhere other than that unit on the Gold Coast, then any reasonable request in that regard will be taken into account and met."

Haneef will have some restrictions like reporting to the Immigration Department daily on phone and once a week in person.

Andrews said Haneef would not immediately get his passport back, but he left open the possibility that Haneef's visa could be returned, depending on the legal advise he receives.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Mick Keelty also defended himself by telling reporters that the force "has acted professionally and within the bound of law".

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo has lodged an appeal, which will come up for hearing Aug 8, against the decision to cancel the visa in the Brisbane Federal Court.

Said Human Rights advocate Marion Le: "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 in which to dispute the intention."

At least 10,000 Australians also signed an online petition calling for the reinstatement of Haneef's visa and demanding counter-terrorism responses to genuine threats and not imagined ones.

A huge gathering of protesters outside the Brisbane Magistrate's Court and at another one at Sydney Town Hall shouted slogans, seeking justice for Haneef and
demanding that his visa be reinstated and he should be compensated.

Whether the minister will reinstate Haneef's visa remains to be seen. But on talkback radio, people are heaving a sigh of relief that finally justice has prevailed.

One caller said: "I am ashamed of my country and the people responsible for this case. What Dr Haneef has gone through, he will never forget in his life."

The Australian authorities' first error related to the location of the SIM card, which was first claimed to be found in a burning jeep used in the Glasgow terror attack. It was later revealed that the SIM card was found eight hours later in possession of Haneef's cousin, Sabeel Ahmed, in Liverpool.

The second error related to claims that Haneef had lived with his cousins Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed in the UK before arriving in Australia.

A spokeswoman from the Gold Coast Hospital has said that Haneef is still an employee of Queensland Health, but remains suspended without pay because of his visa status.