The international director of the campaign group Cage has appeared in court charged with obstructing or frustrating an examination under counter-terrorism stop-and-search powers for refusing to hand over passwords.
Muhammad Rabbani was stopped coming back into Heathrow by police, who had advance information of his travel plans, Westminster magistrates court was told.
Rabbani, 36, was arrested at the airport on 20 November last year under the Terrorism Act. He refused to hand over passwords to an iPhone and laptop he was carrying.
Rabbani said that to hand over such details would breach his privacy, and that schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 did not give officers the right to demand that he hand over the passwords.
The director of Cage has pleaded not guilty to a charge that “on 20 November 2016, at Heathrow airport, he did wilfully obstruct, or sought to frustrate, an examination or search”.
Rabbani said in a statement after the verdict that the judgment highlighted the “absurdity of the Schedule 7 law” and called for it to be reformed. “If privacy and confidentiality are crimes, then the law stands condemned,” he said. “They accept that at no point was I under suspicion, and that ultimately this was a matter of having been profiled at a port … Schedule 7 actively discriminates, and this will hopefully be the start of a number of legal challenges as more people take courage to come forward.”
During the trial, Rabbani’s lawyer, Henry Blaxland, questioned three police officers who were responsible for carrying out the search at the airport. The most senior officer acknowledged that Rabbani had not been randomly stopped, and was instead deliberately targeted for reasons that were not disclosed. Prior to the trial, Rabbani had told The Intercept he believed the authorities may have wanted to obtain a copy of the information provided to him by his contact in the Middle East. He had been searched on several prior occasions, he said, but never before had police seemed so determined to gain access to his electronic devices.
Schedule 7 is supposed to be used solely to determine whether a person is directly involved in the “commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” In 2013, however, the power was used to detain David Miranda, the partner of Intercept co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald, in an effort to impede reporting on documents leaked by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Miranda’s detention caused controversy in the U.K., and aspects of Schedule 7 were subsequently changed. Police were issued with a revised code of practice that told them they must not review or copy information which they have grounds to believe is attorney-client privileged, is journalistic material, or is another kind of information held in confidence, which a person has “acquired or created in the course of any trade, business, profession or other occupation.”