‘Haneef’s plight underlines need for public scrutiny of terror laws’

By Neena Bhandari, IANS,

Sydney : A public forum held here Monday on Indian doctor Muhammad Haneef’s botched terrorism case has been told that robust public scrutiny is the key to ensuring Australia’s terrorism laws strike the right balance between community protection and respect for individual rights.

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“We have long argued that our anti-terrorism laws strike the wrong balance between community safety and individual freedoms,” Law Council of Australia president Ross Ray told the forum convened by the Justice John Clarke inquiry investigating the series of events from the arrest of Haneef at Brisbane International Airport on July 2, 2007, until his release from detention and return home about a month later.

“As the Haneef case demonstrates, the content of these laws is only part of the problem. The difficulties endured by Dr. Haneef have shown us that the way these laws are understood and applied by the officers responsible for their implementation is also a problem,” Ray told the forum, joining a panel of legal and law enforcement experts.

Haneef, a former Gold Coast registrar, was incarcerated in Australia for three weeks last July after being charged with supporting a terrorist organisation by “recklessly” giving his mobile phone SIM card to people planning the botched London and Glasgow bomb attacks.

The charges against Haneef were dropped and he returned to his family in Bangalore on July 29 last year. His work visa was reinstated last December by the new Labour Immigration Minister Chris Evans.

Recently, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) dropped its investigation, after over a year of pursuing the botched terrorism case against Haneef that has caused the AFP much embarrassment and cost the taxpayer A$8.5 million.

Haneef’s lawyer Peter Russo, who had flown in from Brisbane for the forum aptly entitled “Too safe or too sorry”, told IANS: “The inquiry is very important to get a clearer picture of what exactly happened.”

Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson recently told Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio Haneef had been treated “absolutely appallingly” and was welcome to return to work in Queensland.

Haneef’s lawyer Rod Hodgson has said his client would be seeking compensation after the federal inquiry into the case was over. “We have made no secret of the fact that he will be seeking compensation for the immense damage to his career, his family and his reputation.”

The Clarke Inquiry will report its findings on Nov 14.