Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)


31 OCTOBER 2005

  Q200  Lord Judd: Do you have a view on whether there is a possibility of effectively monitoring a situation where somebody has been returned where there are assurances. Do you think some means of effectively monitoring this could be devised and if so how?

  Mr Jafar: I think in some countries that may be a useful method. I think it is one that we should have had even before this whole issue has arisen with regard to asylum seekers, etcetera, et cetera. I think it would be better for a UN or an EU type of body to do this, which would be very far dispatched from the Secretary of State's concerns.

  Q201  Lord Judd: Could I just interrupt you, because, as I understand it, I may be wrong but as I understand it, most of the reputable international organisations have said they want no part of a monitoring responsibility; so possibly what is being examined now is, for example, the role of NGOs which are indigenous to the country concerned. How do you feel about that?

  Mr Jafar: In the most extreme countries which abuse their citizens there are no NGOs. There can be no independent monitoring. Unless we can enforce some way in which may be there can be conciliatory access to these detainees on a periodical basis, I am uncertain, but I think inherently one must be extremely cautious in returning to countries where torture is systematic. I think it would be very difficult to uphold a decision of an assurance from such a country because they have been known to violate their obligations under international law.

  Q202  Mary Creagh: Last week the Home Secretary told us that the proposals out for consultation about a new power to control a place of worship by orders rather than by prosecutions were as a result of views expressed by the Muslim community, that it would be better to proceed in this way to avoid fostering extremism. What do you think about those proposals? Do you think they are going to be workable in view of the difficulty of defining a place of worship, particularly if it is in somebody's garage, house or out on the street?

  Mr Jafar: I think it was unnecessary to have a place of worship. It seems to limit what could be a good law, because there could be pubs that are used for that purpose. In reality it was a dupe that was used for this purpose for the Bradford bombers. There could be many institutions and proprietors who could be asked to carry out these measures, and by limiting it to a place of worship seems to not only question the effectiveness of such a proposition but the factual basis of what happens, we have got 1,100 mosques in this country and only one has ever been infiltrated by the Muhajiroun and extremists, and that is the case of the Finsbury Park Mosque. You cannot base a whole law and executively propose to criminalise a community. What we are doing in having provisions which potentially can order the closure of mosques is to punish the community.

  Q203  Mary Creagh: Can I make it clear, the Government is consulting on a possible new power; it is not a law at the moment; so these are observations that would be useful to feed into that consultation process. What steps is the mainstream Muslim community taking to prevent extremism in Mosques? The Home Secretary cited an idea that had been put forward by the community. If preaching were to take place in English, for example, what would you say to that?

  Mr Jafar: This has got very wide support in the community. It is all about this debate, it is about this development, it is about what is a second generation community or a third generation really making its roots in this country and owning this country as part of its own rather than being seen as outside. These steps are commendable and very appropriate, but I think the question is again wrong because it is not the mosques where extremism takes place or takes root, or develops; it is outside the mosques; it is in private homes; it is in gyms. The mosque is very rarely a place where extremism develops. If you look at the northern riots, none of the people involved in those riots were a result of either Muslim schools or a result of a mosque education. They were all secular educated, all adopting lifestyles, which were football, etcetera, oriented, and so it is not the mosque where these problems occur. I think the Muslim community is doing a lot, not just in the mosque but outside the mosque. In this month of Ramadan we have seen radio stations where again the very important debates that need to take place within the Muslim community are taking place. The MCB have undertaken a consultation process with a huge number of youth organisations to find out exactly what factors are facing them, what problems they have, etcetera, and so a huge assessment of the youth in the community, and this is amongst many, many other measures where there is a very firm focus on the proposition that terrorism in the UK must not be tolerated; but again we fear that that is being diverted into a debate about disproportionality, about unfairness under the current anti-terror legislation.

  Q204 Mary Creagh: To go back to the Finsbury Park Mosque, is it not the case that the fact that there were no powers to deal with extremism in mosques an issue that meant that the entire community was being punished already by the fact that the mosque had been overtaken by extremists and most people who lived round there had to find somewhere else to worship?

  Mr Jafar: I think there was legislation. What the extremists were doing in that mosque breached a lot of laws. The problem was the community were not taken seriously. They were not listened to. For over a decade they were approaching the Charity Commission, the authorities, asking for help, asking for intervention. These people were threatening, using violent threats against members of the Muslim community, but there was very little action and there needs to be more religious sensitivity training in the police, there needs to be closer cooperation with the police in order to have us not only as end users in terms of subjects, but also as users of legislation, as users of the criminal justice system.

  Q205  Mary Creagh: You can understand why the police were reluctant to intervene in that case?

  Mr Jafar: I think it is because of an historical inability to relate with the community. They did not know us. They did not understand the issues. They had no training terms of understanding the community, in terms of understanding extremism. There would be great benefit in greater diversity training, in greater sensitisation of religious issues.

  Q206  Chairman: In relation to the Finsbury Park Mosque, the Charity Commission, to be fair, issued various orders but they had no power to enforce them, which was one of the problems. We cannot go into that in detail because the case is potentially sub judice?

  Mr Jafar: Yes, but there are other examples, individuals, certain clerics. Muslim have been calling for prosecutions, have been providing evidence, and there has been very little movement or these allegations are taken historically with very little degree of seriousness.

  Q207  Chairman: Maybe that is why the Government is looking to strengthen the law.

  Mr Jafar: A greater commitment to serve the community without discrimination would also go towards that.

  Q208  Dr Harris: Are you aware of the new list of unacceptable behaviour that the Home Secretary issued in the summer which will inform his decision about deportation or exclusion of foreign nationals, effectively, from this country?

  Mr Jafar: Yes.

  Q209  Dr Harris: You are aware of it.

  Mr Jafar: I am aware of what is in the public domain, yes.

  Q210  Dr Harris: What is your view on the terms in which those unacceptable behaviours are couched? For example—and I will read from it—"producing, publishing, distributing material, public speaking, including preaching, etcetera, to express views which ferment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs or foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK". Do you think that is just right, too narrow or too broad?

  Mr Jafar: I think it is extremely broad. The Secretary of State already has discretion to exclude people who are non-conducive to the national interest. That already is very broad. I think that provision could be used. Again, the problem with being more explicit for the Muslim community is that there is a perception that it is targeting legitimate liberation or resistance movements, which may sometimes use language which in a UK context would not be correct.

  Q211  Dr Harris: The Home Secretary argues that in providing this list, although he says it is indicative and not exhaustive, he is clarifying what is potentially a broad power which is, as you said, conduct, or likely conduct, or something like that, not conducive to the public good. Do you accept that argument, that in specifying to a certain extent he is narrowing and not broadening, even if you think the terms are broader than you would like them to be?

  Mr Jafar: But he is not replacing the broader provision, the broader provision stays?

  Q212  Dr Harris: Correct?

  Mr Jafar: The point I am making is that the objective is achieved either way. It is just that the latter way seems maybe unjustifiable but it could be seen by people who are very concerned about international issues to be disproportionate and to be directed against silencing or censoring.

  Q213  Dr Harris: My final question is about the wording, and this is something I put to the Home Secretary as well. Would you be happier, even though you are not happy, if the Terrorism Bill, the places of worship guidelines that you had discussions about and these unacceptable behaviours all use the same terms like "encouragement of terrorism", because the places of worship talks about fostering extremism, which may or may not include the encouragement of terrorism and this, as I have said, talks about fostering hatred and justifying. Would you be happier, or simply never happy, if it was restricted to a specific offence defined in the Terrorism Bill?

  Mr Jafar: Yes, I think there has to be consistency in the way we approach this issue. There are many facets and different types of extremism. There is one type which everyone agrees on, but that is just saying extremism per se is not what everyone is against, and there is a potential that . . . .

  Dr Harris: I have been described as extreme by government ministers, probably with some validity, in my time!

  Q214  Baroness Stern: Can we just have a little discussion about the extension of pre-charge detention? My first question would be: do you accept that developments in international terrorism, including the use of suicide bombers (and this is certainly the evidence that the police have put to us) present the police with new problems in ensuring public safety?

  Mr Jafar: I think the bare assertion that a suicide bomber necessitates a different approach to someone who would place a bomb in a shopping-bag and leave it—I cannot see the logic behind that. I can understand that international terrorism requires a different approach, and I can certainly see that there is justification for Parliamentary intervention and new legislation, but not anything beyond 14 days. I do not think a case has been made out for it at all.

  Q215  Baroness Stern: So you are not convinced by any of the justifications that the police have put forward mainly about their operational difficulties in doing all that they have to do within the 14 days?

  Mr Jafar: No, I am convinced that there is a need for measures to be taken to assist them, but there can be amendments to bail, there can be amendments to the way we approach charges, there can be amendments to having people on control orders, surveillance, etcetera, but there are two options that we have. We have one, increasing pre-trial detention which has the potential of devastating hundreds of lives. To date Muslims have been, as I have said, the end user of a lot of anti-terror legislation disproportionately and it really does disaffect people. Just by being arrested one night they are judged as being found guilty in their community, and being detained for six months—I am sorry, three months, which is the equivalent of six months, it is very difficult to see how one can pick up their life after an experience like that. I think 14 days separates western democracies from other nations. There are other nations that use three months, and they, like Sudan, like Libya, they all have three months' pre-trial emergency detention.

  Q216  Baroness Stern: We are talking about pre-charge?

  Mr Jafar: Yes, sorry, pre-charge, not pre-trial.

  Q217  Baroness Stern: Carry on.

  Mr Jafar: I think a line needs to be drawn with regard to what is acceptable. The arguments for the 14-day extension in 2003 were almost identical to what is being put forward as the justification for the three months. To date the longest person kept in detention has been 13 days. There have been some people detained, about three or four, for 10 days and released without charge whatsoever, but there could have been three months.

  Q218  Baroness Stern: Would you be opposed to any extension over 14 days?

  Mr Jafar: Because the objectives can be achieved by other methods, I would object, yes. I think the police need their assistance, need Parliamentary intervention, but there is no need for an extension of 14 days.

  Q219  Baroness Stern: Lord Carlile, who reviews the terrorism powers, as you know, said that the problem is not about the length of the pre-charge detention but the safeguards of the suspect during the period of pre-charge detention. Do you agree with that?

  Mr Jafar: I do agree. I was pointing out countries which have three months pre-charge detention and they invariably abuse human rights, and there seems to be a pattern that people can easily admit to crimes they have not committed in the period of three months. It is a very draconian measure and I think it is disproportionate.

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