By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
The director of a British human rights group who was arrested after refusing to surrender his laptop and cellphone passwords to the U.K. authorities was formally charged on Wednesday.
Muhammad Rabbani, international director of an NGO called CAGE, was charged with wilfully obstructing and seeking to frustrate a search at London’s Heathrow Airport when he was entering the U.K.
Set up in 2003, CAGE says its focus is on “raising awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror”.
Rabbani was detained after disembarking a flight to the U.K. last year and was questioned by the British security services under Schedule 7 of the country’s Terrorism Act.
Under the law, any individual entering the U.K. can be detained and questioned and their DNA and fingerprints can be collected. Their passwords can be demanded to access personal devices by the security services without needing any suspicion regarding the individual.
Human rights watchdog Liberty has described Schedule 7 as a “breathtakingly broad and intrusive power”.
Rabbani refused to hand over his passwords, claiming he had sensitive and confidential information about a torture case on his devices. These were later confiscated before his release on bail.
Rabbani told Anadolu Agency he had a very sensitive case in hand and did not want to break the confidentiality of his client.
He described the confiscation of the material by the authorities as “interference”.
“It is tantamount to the state interfering with the work of an independent NGO that should be left alone to do its work,” he said.
In a statement, CAGE said: “This is a Rosa Parks moment for Muslims in Britain. Our director has been charged with an offence for refusing to break client confidentiality, a privilege enjoyed by journalists, lawyers and human rights activists but not extended to Rabbani.”
He will appear in court on June 20.
*Anadolu Agency will run a full exclusive interview with Muhammad Rabbani tomorrow, 18 May 2017.