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Politicians should not put people in jail

  • 09 January 2008

Politicians should not put people in jail. Nor should they override a court decision to grant bail. If police or prosecutors inadvertently make a terrible blunder, due incompetence or zealotry, they should correct it at the first available opportunity. These would seem fairly uncontroversial propositions. But not, it seems, once someone is tainted by a whiff of any alleged connection to terrorism.

Despite the fact that crucial information provided to a court has since proved false, the Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, says he has no intention of reviewing his decision to incarcerate Dr Mohamed Haneef in an immigration detention centre. His decision was taken one hour after a magistrate granted Haneef bail on a charge of recklessly (but not knowingly) assisting a terrorist group by giving a used SIM card from a mobile phone in mid-2006 to one of his second cousins in the UK. Haneef, who was employed on a work visa at a Gold Coast hospital, told police he was leaving the UK and his cousin wanted the unused credit on the card.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) now admits that, contrary to the claim the prosecution put to the court, the SIM card was not in a jeep used in a failed attack on Glasgow airport on 30 June this year. An official transcript clearly contradicts other purported facts in an AFP statement tendered to the court about what Haneef told police when interviewed after his arrest. But the AFP refuses to say if it will inform the court about these errors, or reveal when it first knew that the information about the SIM card was false.

A spokesperson for Andrews says there is no need for him to review his decision to lock Haneef up, because he acted on advice from the AFP which contained other information. It is understood that a classified annex contains information from the British police about their reasons for suspecting that two of Haneef’s cousins in the UK may be involved in terrorist activities, or at least have knowledge of such activities. Apparently, the annex does not contain any new material clearly incriminating Haneef in the provision of assistance to a terrorist group. However, all the law requires Andrews to decide is that Haneef is of bad character because he has associated with people reasonably suspected of criminal behavior.

The only reason the young Indian doctor is currently incarcerated in an immigration centre, perhaps for several years until his trial is completed, is that he opted to stay in a Queensland jail rather than post the relatively low $10,000 for bail set by a