Haneef forum: 'We must not be silent'


Three-hundred people packed Griffith University's Multi-Faith Centre on July 22 for an emergency community forum in support of Mohamed Haneef and democratic rights.

Organised in just a few days, the forum drew together leaders from the legal fraternity, academics, civil libertarians, human rights organisations, religious groups, progressive political organisations and many concerned individuals.

Former ABC radio presenter Sandy McCutcheon chaired the forum. McCutcheon was the first to make a point echoed by other speakers through the forum — that through its support for the government's treatment of Haneef "the Labor party stands condemned".

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo said he was furious about media reports that day alleging his client was planning an attack on the Gold Coast. "After three weeks of what my client has gone through, to see such serious allegations, from an anonymous source, published in the paper … no allegation of this kind was ever put in any interview with my client … Why is this put to the Sunday Mail when it was not put to the court?" Days later, Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty stated that there was no evidence for the allegation.

A special guest at the forum was Imran Siddiqui, the cousin of Haneef's wife, who had arrived in Australia the previous day to support Dr Haneef. Siddiqui asked the forum, "If he is found not guilty, will he be able to go back to a normal life? We want him to come home clear of charges, not simply be deported."

"This case shows there are profound flaws in the anti-terrorism laws and the migration act", Professor Ross Homel, director of Griffith University's Centre for Ethics, Law and Governance, told the forum. Sasha Jesperson, from human rights group Amnesty International, also outlined the undemocratic nature of the "anti-terrorism" laws. "There are serious infringements on our rights — the presumption of innocence, the right to silence, the right to a defence", Jesperson explained. "A poll revealed that 73% of people knew little or nothing about the [anti-terrorism] laws … but once they had the laws explained to them, 61% said they were extremely concerned about the laws."

The ALP is "gutless", Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said to thunderous applause. Patel called on the government "not use Muslims as a political tool for the elections … we say to the ALP — stand up as an opposition and be counted …"

Other speakers included Dr Brian Bell, acting district manager of Gold Coast District Health Services; Andrew Schwartz, president of Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association; Sister Wendy Flannery, from Sisters of Mercy; and Dr Mohamad Abdalla, director of the Griffith Islamic Research Unit and an organiser of the forum. Abdalla said that it is "not a Muslim issue, this is an Australian issue, an issue of rights … silence means approval — we must not be silent". Abdalla said that the real way to undermine terrorism is "to solve the problems of Palestine, to end the Iraq catastrophe".

The forum formed a Coalition for Justice for Haneef and drafted a statement in support of democratic rights. It also agreed to support a protest on August 8 calling for justice for Haneef. (August 8 will be the date of the appeal against immigration minister Kevin Andrew's revocation of Haneef's visa.)