Police Islamophobia on trial

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Fahad Ansari

Rabi' al-Awwal 04, 1430 2009-03-01

Special Reports

by Fahad Ansari (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 1, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1430)

The British police service can no longer be described as “institutionally racist”, according to Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). Phillips made his comments in a speech marking 10 years since the Stephen Lawrence murder report, which originally coined the phrase. The comments drew heavy criticism from black and ethnic minority groups who claim they continue to suffer at the hands of racist police officers. Phillips’ comments were further undermined by an independent review by the Runnymede Trust, of the progress the police had made in the last ten years since the Lawrence Inquiry. The review found that the police remained “institutionally racist”. Moreover, a new inquiry (the Race and Faith Inquiry) into discrimination within police ranks has just opened to examine why black and ethnic minority officers are more likely to leave the force and are less successful in gaining promotion than their white counterparts.

One worrying development which neither Phillips nor the Runnymede Trust chose to address was the rapid rise of institutional Islamophobia within the police, exemplified by the implementation of anti-terror legislation since 11 September 2001, most recently with the brutal treatment and harassment of Muslim demonstrators protesting the Israeli atrocities in Ghazzah.

Newly released figures reveal that British police have used anti-terrorism laws to stop and search almost 180,000 people in the street. Other official statistics show that young black and Asian people are still six times more likely to be stopped by the police than white people. The Home Office statistics, released via a Freedom of Information request, show that the use of the ‘stop and search’ power under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act has increased exponentially by over ten times in less than ten years. However, only 255 of these incidents have ever resulted in arrest due to terror related offences, and a minuscule number has ultimately resulted in convictions. These terror related offences have never been serious and often consist of nothing more than mere possession of a flag or some other insignia of a proscribed organisation. The dramatic surge in these stop and searches can be seen in the fact that in 2000-01,just 3,583 people were stopped under Section 44. Of these, only one was arrested for terrorism offences.

Anecdotal evidence reported to NGOs such as the Islamic Human Rights Commission and Cageprisoners suggest that the Islamophobic nature of policing is as great a problem as it has ever been. Victims have regularly reported how they have been verbally and racially abused, had their religion mocked and been subjected to threats to be killed unless they left Britain. Anti-terror raids involve the greatest level of Islamophobic abuse almost as if the nature of the alleged offence justifies such behaviour. More serious cases such as the Forest Gate raids involving 200 officers resulted in two brothers being assaulted and arrested just before dawn, with one being shot in the arm. When Muhammad Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair went public with their story, the police began a smear campaign against them, leaking it to the media that they were investigating them for possessing child pornography. In all cases in which Muslim victims have filed complaints with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the results have been less than inspiring with the IPCC essentially functioning as a toothless tiger, generally unable to find officers guilty of wrongdoing, and even on the rare occasions that it does, impotent to direct any meaningful action be taken against them.

One case which illustrates the futility of complaining to the IPCC is that of Babar Ahmad, who on 16 March 2009, will bring the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to the High Court over a brutal assault he states was inflicted upon him during an anti-terror raid in December 2003. The trial is a culmination of five years of campaigning and litigation, which has exposed the ineffectiveness and futility of seeking redress through statutory bodies such as the IPCC. Despite a plethora of evidence in the form of doctor’s reports, photographs and witness statements, to date, not a single officer has faced any disciplinary action of any nature, nor has any explanation been offered as to how Ahmad received his injuries.

On 2 December 2003, Ahmad, a 34-year-old British citizen with no criminal record, was arrested by anti-terror police officers in riot gear during a pre-dawn raid on his home. Ahmad complains that his front door was broken down and officers stormed into his bedroom, hurling racial abuse at him. Thereafter, the officers beat him mercilessly in front of his terrified wife, who was also placed in handcuffs. Ahmad maintains that he did not resist arrest at any stage. The handcuffs were violently twisted and his bare feet were stomped upon. He further complains that he had his trousers pulled down and his private parts were grabbed by one officer. Most concerning is Ahmad’s complaint that he was forced into the prostration position with his hands in cuffs and taunted, “Where is your God now? Why don’t you pray to Him?”, an incident which gained notoriety within the Muslim community and which was seen as evidence that an inherent hatred and targeting of Islam was a fundamental aspect of the War on Terror.

Ahmad states that the physical and verbal assault continued in the police van with one officer violently choking him, resulting in severe physical and psychological injuries. Ahmad was only allowed to be seen by an independent medical examiner a full day after his arrest, who found there to be blood in his ear canal which signified a possible skull fracture, and urinary bleeding indicating damage to his kidneys. No less than 70 injuries were found on his body, two of which were life threatening.

Ahmad was held for six days during which his biometric data was sent around the globe and his home thoroughly searched. On 8 December 2009, he was freed without charge. Upon his release, Ahmad filed a complaint against the police that was ultimately supervised by the IPCC. Although Ahmad was again arrested eight months later at the behest of the US authorities who accuse him of sending money to fighters in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and he was imprisoned (and continues to be so awaiting extradition), his complaint against the officers continued.

On 5 September 2004, the Crown Prosecution Service wrote to inform him that they did not believe there was sufficient evidence to prosecute any of the officers involved in his first arrest; this despite the independent medical and psychological expert opinions, the photographs and videos showing the injuries, and discrepancies in the police version of events. Police officers initially informed Senior District Judge Timothy Workman at Bow Street Magistrates Court on 3 December 2003 that Ahmad’s injuries were “old injuries and that he was making it all up.” A short while later when challenged by Counsel for Ahmad, the police informed the Judge that they believed “some of the injuries” were old. DI Bambro was notified of this by Mr. Ahmad at an early stage of the investigation. Furthermore, in a letter from Mr Dru Sharpling of the CPS to Mr Stephen Timms MP (East Ham) dated 24 November 2004, the CPS stated that Ahmad violently struggled and resisted arrest. Finally, a letter from the IPCC to Ahmad of 14 January 2005 stated that it was not disputed that his injuries were fresh, and not old, and that the officers used excessive force against him. The IPCC however stated that although there was “excessive use of force” that “undoubtedly occurred” which “could only have been done deliberately”. . . “the tribunal could not be sure on a balance of probabilities which officer was responsible for the excessive use of force.” Consequently, the IPCC recommended that only one of the officers be brought before a disciplinary tribunal for the excessive force. On 13 April 2005, an internal Police Misconduct Tribunal found that there was no case to answer against the officer in question. The Chair of the Tribunal concluded that the officer “acted professionally with great bravery. We support his actions: he should be commended and not castigated.”

To date, not a single officer has been sanctioned for the assault on Ahmad. The entire investigation into his complaint appears to have been conducted unfairly and was in no way thorough. Crucial expert medical evidence was excluded from the investigation, the police changed their stories on no less than four occasions, even suggesting once that Ahmad assaulted them, one officer was made a temporary “scapegoat” and numerous questions remain un-answered, not least how Ahmad was left with over 70 injuries on his body, if the police did not do it.

Ahmad has been forced to bring a civil action against the officers in a last ditch effort to seek some sort of accountability, in a trial, the result of which will have lasting repercussions throughout the Mus-lim community, both in the UK and abroad. What happened to him is the result of the same racist ideology and mindset that led to the abuse of Muslim prisoners inGuantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the Forest Gate shooting and the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. In taking his case to this level, Ahmad has taken an unprecedented step as hitherto, other Muslims who have experienced police brutality and Islamophobia have either not had the courage or the willpower to pursue it to this stage. If successful, he could inspire hundreds of other victims of Islamophobic police action to make similar claims. If a judgment is handed in favor of the police, Ahmad will at least have publicized his case and raised doubts about Trevor Phillips’ belief that there no longer exists institutional racism within the police.

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