Sikhs in New Zealand plead for air security tolerance


Auckland : A New Zealand Sikh association has told a parliamentary select committee it fears its community members could be targeted if changes are made to the country's aviation security legislation.

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The committee is currently hearing submissions on the Aviation Security Legislation Bill, which aims at providing security officers with more powers to search passengers and seize prohibited items.

Sikh Association Chairman Verpal Singh said Thursday that the Sikh community understood and accepted the need for tighter security at airports following the events of 9/11, the New Zealand Herald reported.

However, Singh hoped the proposed changes are implemented in a way sensitive to Sikh people so they weren't unfairly targeted during security checks.

Earlier this year concerns were raised about airport security after a group of Sikh priests were allowed to board an Air New Zealand flight carrying kirpans (ceremonial knives).

Singh said aviation security staff needed to be educated about the Sikh religion so they understood that the kirpan was a religious symbol, not a weapon.

He added that Sikhs were happy to stow the kirpan in their luggage but if someone forgot and accidentally walked through a metal detector with one, he should not be automatically treated like a criminal. He should instead be given the chance to remove the kirpan and place it in his luggage.

Singh also stressed that wearing of a turban was also an important issue that security staff needed to understand.

He clarified that the practice of wearing a turban was a religious requirement. Removing the turban in full view of other passengers would be the equivalent of being strip-searched in public.