Every Muslim in Britain, irrespective of race, gender or theological persuasion, should be prepared to be stopped and interrogated at airports under Schedule 7.
On Tuesday 1st October, upon returning from a 10-day work trip in Canada, I was detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act at Gatwick Airport.
Shortly after being stopped, I was told to follow a plain-clothed police officer to an empty room where I was made to wait for 30 minutes. I was then casually questioned for 30 minutes, which included questions about my political views and religious affiliations, one would assume to determine if I was at risk of committing a terrorist attack.
I was officially detained at 12:59pm and then released at 3:11pm – altogether, the encounter lasted just over three hours.
When I was initially stopped by a UK Border Force officer, he told me that, “because Mohammed is a common name, I have to manually check you up in our system”. This was obviously a lie because the anti-terrorism police officer I was referred to later, in order to be questioned under Schedule 7 powers, told me I was specifically stopped due to the countries I had travelled to this year: Turkey, Jordan, Bosnia and the UAE.
Whatever the reasons may have been, the actual reality is that merely travelling as an Asian Muslim male, either in a group or alone, is enough to be religiously and racially profiled, and detained at an airport under our current political climate through Schedule 7 powers.
Having gone through this experience, which can be traumatic for so many people, I felt it would be beneficial to provide some practical advice about what to expect and the actions to take in case you are ever targeted by these powers when travelling abroad:
- You will be screened, your fingerprints and a DNA saliva swab will be taken. You and your belongings will be searched and forensics will be carried out on all your electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops etc).
- Stay calm at all times. Whilst the feeling of being criminalised is not pleasant and can naturally lead to anxiety, fear, frustration and even anger, calmly engaging and articulating your feelings is imperative.
- Inform a family member of your detention. If you are alone, kindly tell the officer dealing with you that you want to make a phone call to inform someone of your detention.
- Firstly inform a solicitor of your detention, and later contact advocacy group CAGE.
- Principally comply. What I mean by this is, whilst you have absolutely no legal choice in being detained and withholding your passwords, you should absolutely inform the officers of the discriminatory and draconian nature of the Schedule 7 policy they are enforcing upon you.
- You will be questioned about your religious and political views, namely the war in Syria, ISIS, the caliphate, Israel and British foreign policy. Do not be shy to articulate your views and back it up by citing the plethora of mainstream non-Muslim figures and organisations that also hold the same views as you on the aforementioned issues. Usually, by citing mainstream non-Muslim figures and organisations, it undermines the perceived legitimacy of their line of questioning and exposes the double standards of the interrogation.
- The police officers interrogating you are not your friends, no matter how polite and courteous they may come across. Kindly tell them to pass on the pleasantries and get to the point of why you were stopped.
- Take the names and badge numbers of every police officer you speak with.
- Ideally, get a written confirmation that no listening device or tracking software has been placed on your electronic devices. However, they may or may not give this. But at the very least ask for a verbal confirmation from the officer in charge.
- Keep your Schedule 7 detention documents with you for future travels, so if you do get stopped again, you can try telling the police not to waste yours and their time (in reality, they have no problem engaging in such practices, and will happily disrupt your journey whilst employing an intimidation strategy during your detention).
- Avoid unnecessarily arguing and cockiness. As mentioned above, principally comply and confidently engage with them, you have no choice in this matter unfortunately.
- Lastly, in exceptional circumstances, I advise against giving the passwords to your electronic devices. If you are in possession of sensitive information that has been entrusted to you, and revealing it could endanger someone’s life, you should withhold the information because giving it up could be a matter of breaching trust — the case involving Muhammad Rabbani from CAGE is a perfect example of this exceptional circumstance. However, failing to give your passwords will lead to your arrest and possibly a terrorism conviction.
I requested a copy of my interrogation so I could share it with the Muslim community as a resource for learning, but I was denied a copy. However, I will be pursuing this matter by submitting a Freedom of Information (FOI) and Subject Access Request (SAR).
To conclude, I appreciate that not everyone is well read and researched on Schedule 7, Prevent, the draconian nature of anti-terrorism laws and the impact of British foreign policy on the national security of this country to express their points under immense and unwarranted pressure. In that case, the only advice I can give is to encourage you to educate and inform yourselves on these matters and be prepared to be detained under Schedule 7 powers at any given time whilst travelling for no other reason except that you are Muslim.
Whilst you a here, be sure to sign this petition calling for an end to Schedule 7.