Apologise for terror arrests Labour MP tells Govt
By Elham Asaad Buaras and Ahmed J Versi | May 29, 2009
Labour MP for Glasgow Central, Mohammad Sarwar, has asked the Government to apologise for its part in the recent high-profile arrests of innocent Muslim students under anti-terror laws on April 8. The case against 12 men involved in what Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, called a “major terrorist plot” amounted to no more than an email and a few telephone conversations, it emerged; all the men were subsequently released without charge on April 22.
Eleven Pakistani students and one British man were freed after extensive searches of 14 properties in north-west England failed to locate any evidence of terrorist activity.
However, nine of the men are due to be deported after being handed over to the UK Border Agency. A spokesman for 10 Downing Street said, “We are seeking to remove these individuals on grounds of national security. Where a foreign national poses a threat to the country we will seek to exclude or deport them where appropriate.”
Sarwar, who issued an Early Day Motion on the subject, urged the Government to apologise over the arrests. He told The Muslim News, “High profile arrests give a bad name to not only those who were arrested but to the whole Pakistani community as well. There is no evidence that they were involved in any terrorist activities. The Government should do the right thing and apologise to the young people who were arrested.” “What has disturbed me in this case is that after they were released without charge, they were handed over to the UK Borders Agency so that they can be deported to Pakistan. This is an unfair treatment to these young people. People and political leaders in Pakistan are very angry and very unhappy with the whole scenario and feel very strongly that they are marginalised and given a bad name,” said Sarwar
Lawyers say the deportation orders are based on their clients being involved in extremist activity and therefore their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good on the grounds of National Security. Lawyers are calling for an independent inquiry into Operation Pathway.
Councillor Afzal Khan who was briefed by the police shortly before the release of the Pakistani nationals, told The Muslim News he was “deeply concerned” by the arrests and the way the arrests were made. “Too many times the police are getting wrong. This affects public confidence in the police and adversely affecting intercommunity relationships. So it is vital for an independent inquiry into the arrests so that lessons are learnt,” said Khan, in whose area some of the suspects were arrested.
Muslim Council of Britain spokesman, Inayat Bunglawala, said the Prime Minister’s comments on the arrests had been prejudicial and premature. “These arrests took place in very dramatic circumstances with students being pulled from universities and thrown to the floor. Instead of releasing them with good grace and making clear a mistake has been made the Government is seeking to deport them citing a very vague national security threat.”
The operation was launched after the interception of telephone calls and emails which pointed towards a bombing campaign by al-Qa’ida. A senior Pakistani official said the British authorities had failed to consult them before carrying out the arrests and greater co-operation would have avoided “embarrassing mistakes” for the British Government.
Mohammed Ayub, lawyer of three of the young men wrongfully arrested, told The Muslim News his clients who were arrested with “no evidence of any wrongdoing” and in “a blaze of publicity” deserve to have their name cleared “by a similar amount of publicity”.
He added, “Our clients have no criminal history, they were here lawfully on student visas and all were pursuing their studies and working part-time.
“Their arrest and detention has been a very serious breach of their human rights. Now, adding insult to injury, attempts are being made to deport them. We intend to challenge the deportation orders and, if necessary, will take our fight to the highest courts.”
Assistant Chief Constable Dave Thompson, in charge of the raids for Greater Manchester Police, said, “The operations the GMP and North West Counter Terrorism Unit carry out have one objective to protect the public. They are not targeted at any particular groups or communities.”
However, Amjad Malik, representing three of the men arrested told The Muslim News the threat of deportation was nothing more than a face saving exercise based on “stereotyping and Islamophobia”.
“That allegation of involving ‘Islamic extremist activity’ is vague and too farfetched and requires a definition by courts as to what is classed as ‘extremist activity’ as to some reading prayer, fasting, keeping a beard, going on Blogs, sharing flat, arranging meals could be an Islamic extremist activity…to the appellants it’s stereotyping and Islamophobia.”
He added that had there been “any extreme element of suspicion and evidence, they would have been charged and brought before a court of law to face trial. However, using immigration process seems an ‘eye wash’ to divert attention from their ‘innocence’ and claims of ‘foiling a big terrorist plot’.”
Labour MP for Glasgow Central Mohammad Sarwar and Perry Bar MP Khalid Mahmood warned the government against removing the men whom it has failed to charge.
In a letter to Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, the MPs said the raids and deportation would inflict “irreparable damage” to race relations. Efforts to win the “hearts and minds” of British Muslims had been undermined by the raids, they said.
The British Government has rejected the appeal, suggesting that all had been freed only because of a lack of evidence. “The reason we are taking deportation action is that we considered that there is sufficient evidence to believe the particular individuals concerned represent a threat to the national security of this country but against whom we’ve been advised that we can’t bring charges,” Smith said.
“We are able to seek deportation as the criteria we must meet are set at a lower threshold than those in a prosecution,” she said in a copy of the letter to Sarwar obtained by The Muslim News. The arrests were made on “credible intelligence to suggest there was an imminent threat,” she insisted.
The MPs said they had been urged to intervene by members of the Pakistani community. The decision to seek their deportation also provoked a diplomatic row with Pakistan, highlighted when President Asif Ali Zardari pulled out of a joint press conference with Brown during a visit to Islamabad at the end of April.
The students are appealing against their deportation orders to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, the country’s most secret court that was established after the Government lost a case at the European Human Rights Court in 1996.
On May 14, the court refused bail on the basis that they are deemed “high risk” to national security as submitted by the Secretary of State. The next hearing is on July 27. The whole arrests saga is currently being separately investigated by the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, whose findings are due in the next few weeks.