CAGE director Rabbani defiant after failure to reveal passwords leads to counter-terror conviction
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Tuesday October 10 2017
Muhammad Rabbani, international director of campaign group CAGE, emerged from Westminster Magistrates’ Court smiling despite being convicted of obstructing counter-terror police following a one-day trial in September.
Rabbani was on trial after refusing to disclose passwords to his electronic devices to officers following a Schedule 7 stop made by police at Heathrow Airport in November 2016. The director, who was returning from a business trip from the Gulf region, stated that his devices contained confidential information from a client who had reported torture claims to him.
Schedule 7 stops, which give police the right to stop anybody at UK border ports without requiring reasonable suspicion, has been a particularly difficult area for Muslim communities to contend with. Human rights group Liberty has described Schedule 7 as a “fishing expedition”, which is “unnecessary and excessive”.
Researchers from Durham University previously concluded that Schedule 7 stops have undermined community relations with Muslims feeling a “suspect community” disproportionately stopped and searched and subject to questioning while travelling.
Home Office data for the year ending June 2017 shows that 28% of those examined under Schedule 7 legislation were of Asian or Asian British ethnicity, with those of Asian background making up almost a third of all those detained. According to census figures, Asians make up just 7% of the total UK population.
Following the Schedule 7 stop of journalist David Miranda in 2013, Home Office guidance was amended to state that officers should “cease reviewing, and not copy” information which they have grounds to believe is legally privileged.
During the formal examination conducted under Schedule 7 powers, officers asked Rabbani to hand over his passwords to his electronic devices, saying that they would arrest him if he did not comply. Rabbani, speaking to The Intercept prior to the trial, explained that he informed the officers information on his devices was confidential and related to vulnerable people. Rabbani said “they ignored that”, stating “we have the power to take your devices and to compel you to give your passwords”.
Rabbani was initially arrested and then subsequently charged in May with “wilfully obstructing or seeking to frustrate a Schedule 7 search”. Giving her verdict in court, Judge Emma Arbuthnot described Rabbani as “of good character”, and acknowledged that he was “trying to protect the confidential material on his devices”. She was constrained by the intrusive law to deliver a guilty verdict, concluding that his “decision not to provide the information when requested by the examining officers” amounted to a “wilful obstruction of the lawful examination in the circumstances.”
Rabbani was ordered to pay court courts of £620 and granted a conditional discharge of 12 months.
Greeted outside the courtroom by dozens of well-wishers, Rabbani told the assembled crowd that his conviction underlined the “absurdity of the Schedule 7 law”. “If privacy and confidentiality are crimes, then the law stands condemned.” Confirming he would appeal his conviction, Rabbani stated “In reality, Schedule 7 discriminates and the result indicates that our only option is to change the law”.