Saturday, January 12, 2013

British Somalis ‘bullied’ into helping security services

British Somalis 'bullied' into helping security services

The Independent on Sunday carried an article by the paper's religious affairs correspondent, Jerome Taylor, on the experience of British Somalis being detained and questioned at airports under schedule 7 anti-terrorism powers. The report follows the recent detention of the British Somali double Olympic gold-medalist, Mohamed 'Mo' Farah, by the US authorities whilst travelling to the US over the holiday period.

British Somali singer, Aar Manta, told Taylor that in he is often pulled aside at airports, "the guys in suits come along. Their general approach is, 'we can help you if you help us'." Manta said that such an approach risks"alienating young British Somalis…Anyone with common sense would go to the authorities if they knew something bad was going on…But they shouldn't be forcing people to spy."

Taylor writes that "For many of Britain's estimated 400,000 Somalis, such experiences are depressingly familiar and there is growing anger about how they are treated at Britain's ports. Top of their list of complaints is the allegation that pressure is being put on young Somali men in particular to spy on their own community." He adds that the reason for targeting people at airports is because "airlines keep detailed records of passengers, enabling our spies to keep a close eye on who is coming in and out of the country."

A representative of Somali Diaspora UK told the paper that in a recent gathering held to discuss the issue in London, of 33 London boroughs which were represented, "17 said they had community members who felt pressured to spy." 

Another British Somali, Jamal Osman also told Taylor of testimony he has heard that Somalis are threatened with having their passports taken away if they do not cooperate with the security services, which "works against the intelligence community because it will dissuade Somalis from coming forward when they do have information."

Allegations of MI5 and MI6 intimidation of Muslim passengers emerged several years ago in 2009 when five Somali men told the Independent of their experiences and threats of blackmail if they did not cooperate with the intelligence services. One such individual, Mahdi Hashi, was last year stripped of his citizenship and as the Mail on Sunday reported, Hashi is currently being held in solitary confinement in the US charged with terrorism offences. Hashi spent three months last year being interrogated by US authorities in a prison in Djibouti with allegations made that he was illegally rendered by the US.

Since these claims first surfaced in 2009, the Independent has reported similar stories on a number of occasions (see herehere and here), and allegations have also been made by Scottish Muslims to the same effect. 

The Home Office consultation on the Schedule 7 powers concluded last month. Our submission to the consultation can be found here. As we argued, available data suggests the powers are being disproportionately used against Muslims with damaging consequences for liberty and security, and trust in the security apparatus. One can only hope the consultation process and the recommendations of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, results in a calibrating of the Schedule 7 powers to mitigate the risk of alienating those very communities whose co-operation is needed in the collective struggle against terrorism.

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