Friday, July 27, 2007

Australia exonerates Indian doctor, calls his arrest a mistake

Shireen Shala for

Friday, July 27, 2007 (Brisbane)
Nearly 25 days after Mohammed Haneef was arrested in connection with the UK terror plot, the Australian police has said it was a mistake.

Haneef was arrested on charges of helping terrorists and even treated like one.

The Indian doctor is now out of prison and all charges against him have been dropped. The turnaround came after glaring inconsistencies in the doctor's case were investigated and it was found that the evidence against him was indeed very flimsy.

Australian prosecutors admitted they had made mistakes and dropped terror charges against the Indian doctor.

''I'll now take further steps to inquire as to how that mistake occurred,'' said Damian Bugg, Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The top prosecutor personally reviewed Haneef's case after glaring inconsistencies.

Glaring inconsistencies

The prosecutors claimed the doctor's SIM card was found in the burning car that crashed into Glasgow International airport in June. The card was found 300 kilometers away in a flat in Liverpool, where his cousin Sabeel Ahmed lived.

Prosecutors also claimed Haneef lived with the Ahmed brothers- Sabeel and Kafeel in Liverpool.

Haneef actually lived elsewhere and had only given Sabeel his SIM card to take advantage of the extra minutes.

After days of solitary confinement, Haneef has been taken away from the Wolston Correctional Centre in Brisbane and is being transferred to a detention centre where he will be kept till Monday.

Haneef's cousin who flew out to meet him in Brisbane seems to have brought him lots of luck. The family is playing it safe and they want to do everything by the book now.

Free will

But its not over just yet. Australia's immigration minister says he is still considering deporting Haneef even though India has asked for his visa to be re-instated.

''Rather than being detained in immigration custody, namely in Villawood or some facility such as that, he will be released into residential detention which means he can reside at his unit on the Gold Coast,'' said Kevin Andrews, Immigration Minister, Australia.

Dr Haneef's lawyers and family say they will fight to clear his name.

''We want him to go on his free will. We wouldn't want him to be deported because that's going to jeopardise a lot of his activities. I wouldn't want him to have a black mark on his passport, because he's done nothing wrong,'' said Imran Siddiqui, Haneef's relative.

Haneef's wife Firdaus Arshiya spoke to NDTV shortly after he was cleared of all charges.

''My husband's innocence has been accepted by everyone in the world. He is just waiting to get back. I do not want anyone else to go through what we did. Don't know about Haneef, but I don't want to go back to Australia''.

Clinical competence

Haneef has not only been vindicated but he can also return to his job at the Gold Coast hospital.

In a statement, Dr Brian Bell, the hospital's Executive Director said Haneef is welcome to return to his job at the Gold Coast Hospital if his visa is reinstated.

Dr Bell said Haneef has shown a high level of clinical competence and is well liked by colleagues and patients. Haneef is currently under suspension and is not being paid as he does not have a visa.

Blame game

Prime Minister John Howard who earlier stood up for action against Haneef now blames the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Speaking to reporters in Bali, Howard said, ''Prime ministers don't conduct prosecutions, nor do Attorney-Generals. But directors of public prosecutions do.''

He further said: ''Bearing in mind that the detention of the man was undertaken by the police and not at the request or direction or encouragement of the Government, and that the case was prepared and presented by the Director of [Public] Prosecutions, I think that the right thing now is for those two men to explain the process and explain the reasons.''

Fair trial

Back home in India, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said: ''We are very relieved. India pushed all along for a fair trial and his rights. He will be reunited with his family soon,'' said Anand Sharma, Minister of State for External Affairs.

The Australian police had faced strong criticism in Australia as well as in India for slapping charges against Haneef on flimsy grounds.

''We are happy Haneef is cleared of all charges. India will ask Australian government to provide visa to Haneef. Our first priority is to bring him back. Haneef can come back on regular visa or be deported,'' said E Ahamed, Minister of State for External Affairs.

Speaking exclusively to NDTV, Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy said, ''Haneef was unnecessarily dragged into the issue. The fact that all charges have been dropped comes as a relief.

''People were under the impression that Bangalore had become a base for producing terrorist and all kinds of elements. That is not true. I can only talk about further investigations once I get further details from Australia.''

Haneef was the first person to be detained under the country's anti-terror law since July 2 in Australia.

All charges have been dropped and he is now free to live within the community at an address agreed by the immigration department.

The controversy surrounding the young doctor, divided the Australian community with many civil liberty groups questioning the Australian government.

[PS, the Aussie Immigration Minister, in an act of obvious malice, cancelled Dr Haneef's visa and refused to go back on his decision.]

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