‘I was asked what mosque I attend’: Humanitarians detained at Airport under Schedule 7


A community activist and the Director of an online fundraising and donations platform have both spoken about being detained on separate occasions and questioned under a controversial law at Manchester Airport.

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is a law that allows for travellers to be held, examined and searched at airports, international rail terminals and ports for up to six hours if police are concerned an individual could be involved in terrorism. 

Detainees do not have the right to silence and must surrender their phones, laptops and passwords.

The law is controversial as people can be stopped and searched without there being grounds for suspecting them of being involved in terrorism.

Ali Shaan is a CEO who is heavily involved in charity work, from creating technology to physically fundraising in the UK and abroad. On his return journey from a business trip to Turkey on 6 September he was held and questioned.

“It was daunting and very intimidating. Have I committed a crime? Why or what kind of Act is this that they can arbitrarily interrogate anyone based on their appearance?”

He added, “They told me I was detained under Schedule 7, due to which I did not have the right to remain silent. I asked them why I was being stopped. They said it’s random and I was given a pamphlet explaining the law briefly. I was taken into a very small room where they took my laptop and phone off me.”

“I was asked questions such as which mosque do you attend? What do you think of Jihad? What does the word “Caliphate” mean to you?  What do you think of the 7/7 bombing and MEN Arena attack? What sect do you belong to and what do you think about ISIS and people like Bin Laden?”

It has been reported by thousands of Muslims who have been stopped and questioned over the years that they were asked personal questions about their religious beliefs such as if they pray frequently, if they fast in Ramadhan and whether they have been to Mecca for pilgrimage. 

Ali was asked many other questions and felt they behaved towards him as if he had “committed a crime.” They also took his photo, fingerprints and a sample of his DNA though he was not charged with a crime.

M, an Islamic teacher and youth campaigner also from Oldham was stopped at Manchester Airport under the law on 13 October and held for 5 hours as he was returning from a holiday in Dubai with his wife.

“I was stopped at passport control; I could tell my passport had been flagged on the system, there were police officers stationed at each desk. They were being outwardly friendly despite harbouring suspicions that I was a terrorist or could commit acts of terrorism. They were nonchalant about trampling on my basic human rights.”

M has been involved with community activism for more than 10 years and fundraises for humanitarian causes. He is an educationalist and web designer and runs an evening school for children. He describes the experience as “embarrassing, nerve-racking and offensive” and he “felt like a criminal.”

Although she was not detained or questioned, his wife has been traumatised by the ordeal and has had sleepless nights ever since. She has never experienced anything like it before and has started to suffer from anxiety as a result. To be held for so many hours without knowing what the investigation was about and if charges would be levelled have resulted in emotional distress for everyone involved. 

She said, “While it is understandable that allowing such powers is needed to maintain public safety, I feel Schedule 7 needs to be reviewed. It is not justifiable that a person can be stopped without reasonable suspicion, detained for hours and treated unfairly.”

From more than 420,000 cases of detention and questioning reported up to 2019, a vast majority of incidents involved Muslims. A study conducted by Cambridge University researchers in 2014 found that 88% of those stopped under the controversial law were followers of Islam.  

Muslims have contributed so much to British society especially to the NHS and the hospitality trade. Apart from an insignificant but vocal minority, they are hard working, tax-paying and law abiding citizens who have much to offer.

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