Australia will not apologise to Haneef: John Howard

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : When dealing with terrorism it is better to be safe than sorry, and Australia will not say "sorry" to Muhammad Haneef, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Monday when asked about the Indian doctor who was incarcerated for 27 days as part of a bungled investigation into the failed British bombings.

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"Australia will not be apologising to Dr. Haneef," Howard told reporters here and said "he (Haneef) was not victimised", as the 27-year-old doctor arrived in his hometown Bangalore to what Australian television channels described as "Bollywood-style reception" and a "hero's welcome".

Haneef, who was detained by the Australian Federal Police July 2, just before flying to India on a one-way ticket, left Australia Saturday night thanking people for their overwhelming support and asserting his innocence in a paid TV interview.

However, the aftershocks of his collapsed case will be felt here for some time to come.

Haneef still dominated space in print and electronic media Monday, raising many questions about the efficacy of the counter terrorism laws, mistakes and failures of the police and prosecution and a louder outcry over the violation of an individual's basic human rights.

A resolute Howard said mistakes happened from time to time and when dealing with terrorism, it was better to be safe than sorry. "Dr. Haneef was not victimised and Australia's international reputation has not been harmed," he said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters at Sydney airport: "What do you expect them to do – fall on the ground and grovel, eat dirt? I mean, get real. This is quite a common situation where the police conduct an investigation."

Howard said he supported the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who revoked Haneef's visa earlier this month just hours after a Brisbane court granted him bail.

Despite the collapse of the case, Andrews has refused to reinstate the visa unless Haneef's lawyers successfully appeal the decision in the Australian Federal Court.

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo, who accompanied him to India, has said that Haneef has six years to sue the Australian government for damages.

Russo said his first priority was to continue the legal battle for restoration of Haneef's work visa.

Prominent Australian lawyer Peter Faris said Haneef should be compensated for the bungled investigation and charges.

"I think he's probably owed a lot of money. I would have thought we would have a very substantial claim arising out of a bungled investigation and the bungled charges against him," Faris said.

Haneef, working as registrar at Gold Coast Hospital in Queensland, was on way to the Brisbane airport to India when he was detained on suspicion of having links with the failed June 30 bomb attacks in Britain.

He was charged with supporting a terrorist organisation by "recklessly" giving his mobile phone SIM card to people planning the Britain bomb attacks. His two cousins Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed are under detention in Britain over the foiled terror attacks.

In an interview with Macquarie Radio, Howard has indicated that more details surrounding the immigration minister's decision to cancel and not re-issue Haneef's visa might be released to the public.

As the spotlight turns to Andrews, the minister said he was waiting for written clearance from the commonwealth solicitor-general to release his reasons for cancelling Haneef's visa.

He told reporters in Hobart: "The reality is that I've had one hand tied behind my back because this information was provided to me under the legislation by the federal police as protected information."

Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said if any inquiry into the case went ahead and found nothing to hold against the Indian doctor, he should be given a formal apology.

The opposition Labour Party Leader Kevin Rudd, who has all along supported the government in principle on the case, demanded a judicial inquiry into the collapsed case, saying it was the only way to answer questions "hanging in the air" about the government's treatment of Haneef.