Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Canberra halts doctor's release

PAPERWORK A court released Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef on bail on terrorism charges yesterday only for Canberra to cancel his work visa and take him into custody

AGENCIES , SYDNEY AND BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

The Australian government stopped an Indian doctor from being released on bail on terrorism charges linked to British car bombings by canceling his visa yesterday and ordering him into an immigration detention center.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said Mohamed Haneef's work visa was canceled because he ``failed the character test,'' and that he will be taken into immigration custody while his case is heard.

"I reasonably suspect that he has, or has had, an association with persons engaged in criminal activity, namely terrorism, in the UK," Andrews told reporters in Canberra. "That's the basis on which I have made this decision."

Haneef, 27, has been in custody since July 2 but was only charged on Saturday, sparking criticism by civil rights groups of his 12-day detention without charge.

A magistrate yesterday ordered Haneef be released on A$10,000 (US$8,700) bail, saying he had no known links to a terrorist organization and that police were not alleging that his mobile phone SIM card had been used in relation to the British terror plot last month.

But within hours of the bail ruling, Andrews said he had canceled Haneef's visa.

Two people in Britain have also been charged after two car bombs primed to explode in London were discovered early on June 29. The following day, a jeep crashed into the terminal building at Glasgow airport and burst into flames.

All but one of the eight original suspects are medics from the Middle East or India.

Australian Federal Police have charged Haneef with "providing support to a terrorist organization" because he left his SIM card with his second cousin, one of those linked to the attacks in London and Glasgow.

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo said he would appeal the government's decision.

Haneef's defense team has slammed the government's case as weak, saying their client only left the SIM card so his cousins could take advantage of a special deal on his mobile phone plan.

Australia's main opposition Labor Party supported the government's decision, but the Australian Greens said the move undermined the doctor's chances of a fair trial.

"The government has effectively declared Dr Haneef guilty before he even gets his day in court. Immigration detention is not meant to be a jail of last resort when the government does not like a court's decision," Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said.

Civil rights groups also attacked the move.

"The reason we have an independent court system is so these incredibly important decisions are made for the right reasons, and aren't subject to political interference," said Cameron Murphy, the secretary of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties.

"It is not appropriate for the government to just keep him incarcerated because they don't like the decision of the magistrates court," he said.

Haneef's wife called for the Indian government to help.

"The charge is baseless," Firdaus Arshiya told reporters in Bangalore, India. "The government has to help an Indian citizen being harassed by the Australian government.

"If they had to cancel his visa, why didn't they do it when they charged him on Friday. Somehow they want to detain my husband. My husband is innocent, the world knows it," she said.

Haneef will now be held in immigration detention until his trial after which he may be deported.

Also see story:
Editorial: `Terrorism' and Australian fiat

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