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Muhammad Rabbani greets reporters outside Court.
Muhammad Rabbani greets reporters outside Court.

Guilty – of standing up for civil rights

THE INTERNATIONAL Director of CAGE, Muhammad Rabbani, has been convicted of “wilfully obstructing or seeking to frustrate an examination or search under paragraph 18(1)(c) of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000”.

He was charged with this offence following an incident at Heathrow Airport on 20th November 2016. Rabbani was returning to the UK after a trip overseas. Police stopped him and seized his mobile phone and laptop, wanting to examine the contents of the devices. Rabbani did not give the police the passwords for the devices, pointing out that they contained a statement in a case against the police which was before the courts. The police were not allowed access to the statement at that point. It was due to be disclosed later in the court timetable for that case.

On 17th May, the police charged Rabbani with wilfully obstructing their access to his devices – and the statement which was supposed to be legally privileged (confidential). Rabbani appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 25th September, where he was convicted and sentenced to 12 months’ conditional discharge and fined £620. The police still have the phone and the laptop and are still trying to examine the contents.

Rabbani was not cowed by the outcome of the trial, telling supporters outside the court that they had won a moral victory. Rabbani said, “Today’s judgement based on the judge’s and prosecution’s acceptance that I am of good character and worthy of belief, highlights the absurdity of the schedule 7 law. They accept that at no point was I under suspicion, and that ultimately this was a matter of having been profiled at a port. There are important implications for our collective privacy as s.7 acts as a digital strip search.

“I took the decision to not raise the details of an important torture case before my arrest, and ultimately I have been convicted of protecting the confidentiality of my client. If privacy and confidentiality are crimes, then the law stands condemned.

CAGE and I are glad we brought this case, and the result indicates that our only option is to change the law. Schedule 7 actively discriminates, and this will hopefully be the start of a number of legal challenges as more people take courage to come forward. We will be appealing this decision and we have won the moral argument.”

Dr Adnan Siddiqui, Director of CAGE, added, “Finding against Rabbani for upholding the rule of law, making a stand against the harassment of Muslims at airports, and protecting a torture victim’s right to seek accountability highlights the injustices of the system. The outcome demands an attitude of courage and fortitude from our supporters, as well as broader civil society. We must continue to challenge these injustices despite intimidation.

“We would like to thank all those who supported Rabbani and CAGE in resisting oppressive counter-terrorism legislation, which has seen the steady erosion of our value and liberties. Despite the outcome, coercion and intimidation have still failed to break the principle of trust which is a key value of CAGE and all those who understand justice.”

Gareth Peirce, Rabbani’s solicitor, said, “This is a mockery of the concept of due process – the exercise of a principled, rational, truthful, justifiable concern that legitimate confidential obligations should be respected is transformed instead into a strict liability criminal offence. The idea that there is access to any protection is nonsensical. The only comfort in this outcome is that it exposes vividly how shoddy and shabby are the claims that Schedule 7 stops are carefully calibrated, proportionally applied measures that serve to protect national security. The reality is Mr Rabbani’s experience boils down to having to run a capricious gauntlet of interference with every journey and with the Damocles sword of prosecution hanging over every stop.”

For more information about CAGE and its work, go to:

•Full story:
CAGE Director Rabbani pleads “not guilty”

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