MSPs asked to look into "Islamophobic" anti-terror stop and question powers

schedule-7-cover-cr.jpg

Schedule 7 report by Cage
Schedule 7 report by Cage

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Thursday 29 August 2019
For immediate release

SACC is asking the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia to look into the detention and questioning of Muslims at Scottish ports and airports under controversial UK anti-terror powers.

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows police to question anyone entering or leaving the UK in order to determine whether they are a terrorist. Police do not not need to have any grounds for suspicion in order to question a person. They can detain people for up to 6 hours for questioning. Detainees have no right to silence, must surrender their phones, computers and passwords, provide fingerprints and DNA on request, and may be strip searched. Failure to comply is a terrorism offence. 419,000 people have been questioned around the UK since 2009, but separate figures are not available for Scotland. People are known to have been questioned under Schedule 7 at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports and at Stranraer ferry terminal.

The Home Office does not provide a breakdown of the ethnicity or religion of people selected for questioning, but various studies and anecdotal evidence from around the UK suggest that there is an overwhelming and disproportionate focus on Muslims. We at SACC have a strong impression that Schedule 7 stops have for many years been a fairly common experience for Scottish Muslims and very rare for non-Muslims.

Muslims stopped under Schedule 7 are typically asked about their religious practices and views, often in ways that seem to be designed to lead people towards a statement that might be thought by police to be suspicious or "extreme." They are often asked about their routines and associations. For example, they are asked which mosques they pray at, and which cafes they visit. These questions seem to be aimed not at uncovering a terrorist, but rather at building up a rich intelligence picture of Muslim communities.

Questions sometimes seem designed to intimidate. For example, in the years when Osama bin Laden was in hiding, Muslims were often asked if they knew where he was.

Convictions arising from Schedule 7 stops are extremely rare. An analysis of government data by campaigning group Cage revealed that that the conviction rate across the UK from 2010 to 2019 was 0.007%. This includes convictions solely for failing to comply with Schedule 7. It looks as if Schedule 7 is used not to protect our borders from terrorist intrusion, but rather to facilitate the wholesale accumulation of intelligence on Muslim communities.

Schedule 7 embodies Islamophobia through the racial/religious profiling apparently involved in selecting people for questioning, through lines of questioning that treat Islamic beliefs as intrinsically suspicious, and through its targeting of whole Muslim communities for surveillance. It gives police extraordinary powers. There is no other situation in which a person, even a person suspected of serious crime, does not have a right to silence. These powers would be troubling however they were applied. It should be unconscionable that they have been used systematically and routinely, over a period of nearly nineteen years, in a racist and Islamophobic way.

Counter-terrorism policies are reserved to Westminster. But Police Scotland are funded by the Scottish Government and answerable to it. The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament cannot remain silent while Police Scotland engages, day in and day out, in blatantly discriminatory conduct.

Abdurrahman Ezz is a writer, video journalist and photographer from Egypt and is studying at Edinburgh Napier University. He was questioned under Schedule 7 at Edinburgh airport in December 2018. He said:

"I felt that I was targeted only because I was a brown Muslim with a beard - nobody else was stopped on a trip with perhaps more than 150 passengers, mostly white Europeans. I was very scared; I think that I have been singled out because I was appeared Muslim or Middle Eastern. I was treated as a criminal even though I did not commit any crime. I consider Scotland and UK to be my country so I want it to be safe. I'm living here with my family, my wife, my daughter and my baby son, but this security will not be achieved by violating my and others human rights."

He added:

"I left my country because of dictatorship practices and human rights violations and unfortunately this is how I felt again when I was stopped at Edinburgh airport. My rights have been violated a second time and I have been assaulted by the officers."

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC said:

"Schedule 7 has been a profound concern for SACC for many years. The silence of Scottish politicians has so far been deafening. The creation of the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia in 2018 brought a breath of fresh air to many aspects of Islamophobia. I hope it will now open a pathway to scrutinise and challenge Schedule 7, and I think that the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee should also take a look at the issue.

"The National Police Chiefs Council said in June that a proposal by the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims that Islamophobia should be defined as a form of racism could undermine counter-terrorism powers. Schedule 7 must have been one of the powers they had in mind. The NPCC statement shows that it understands very well that police routinely engage in Islamophobic conduct.

"The First Minister has already indicated her support for the APPG definition of Islamophobia. But however Islamophobia is defined, police and government need to keep in mind that race and religion are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and that the national security exemption provided under the Act requires proportionality. There is nothing proportionate about Schedule 7, as the microscopic conviction rate shows. If the UK Government won't scrap it, Police Scotland should stop using it."

Speaking at a meeting in Glasgow's Woodside Halls on Saturday Moazzam Begg, Outreach Director of Cage, said:

"We have concluded that the Islamophobia in this legislation is structural, it is institutional."

SACC supports Cage's call for the APPG on British Muslims to investigate Schedule 7. We are also calling for the Scottish Parliament's CPG on Tackling Islamophobia to look into it. We have raised the issue in our submission to the CPG's inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland.

In our submission to the CPG, we said:

"The power to stop and question travellers at UK ports and airports under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 embodies Islamophobic discrimination and is intimidating for whole communities as well as for the individuals questioned. It must be scrapped. In the meantime, its use by Police Scotland must be discontinued."

[ENDS]

Notes

  1. In a study of people questioned at an English airport, 88% of respondents questioned on arrival were Muslim (Brandon Langley, 2014; "A randomised control trial comparing the effects of procedural justice to experienced utility theories in airport security stops" - thesis for Masters degree, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge.). In a survey by campaigning group Cage, all but one out of 201 people questioned under Schedule 7 were Muslim (https://www.cage.ngo/cage-releases-first-ever-schedule-7-report-evidencing-islamophobia-at-uk-borders-and-calls-for-appg-on-british-muslims-to-investigate-the-home-office).
  2. The image accompanying this press release is from the cover of the Cage report. © Cage 2019.
  3. Abdurrahman Ezz says he was assaulted by police following his Schedule 7 stop (https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20181214-egypt-journalist-detained-in-public-loo-beaten-by-police-at-edinburgh-airport/). He was charged with breach of the peace in connection with the incident, but all charges were dropped in June.
  4. The National Police Chiefs Council says it "brings police forces in the UK together". Police Scotland is not listed as a member of the NPCC but Police Scotland representatives have attended various NPCC meetings.
  5. The CPG on Tackling Islamophobia is chaired by Anas Sarwar MSP. It is carrying out an inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland and has invited written evidence from individuals and organisations. The closing date for submissions has been extended from 26 August to 30 September. SACC's submission to the CPG is not yet published, apart from the extract quoted in this press release. More information about the Islamophobia inquiry at https://forms.ncl.ac.uk/view.php?id=13027
  6. SACC opposes all forms of racism, with a particular focus on state racism and human rights abuses related to the "war on terror". SACC is a member of the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia. Jointly with the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), SACC has co-organised annual conferences on Islamophobia since 2014.