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27 July, 2007

Haneef is a free man!

Indian doctor, Mohammed Haneef, arrested in Australia on a charge of aiding terrorism, is free after 25 days -- thanks to the support human rights defenders in that country extended to him.

The Australian police picked up the doctor apparently after receiving a report from Britain that he had supplied a SIM card to the prime suspect in the Glasgow suicide bomb attack. Human rights organizations like Amnesty International deplored the action. As the Australian police tried to press the charge, many fair-minded people in the country raised their voice against his prosecution on a flimsy ground. Some of them demonstrated wearing placards bearing the legend: "I have given my SIM card. Arrest me!"

Eventually the Australian authorities admitted they had erred, and said there would be an investigation to find out how the mistake occurred.

The Government of India did not act promptly to protect the interests of Dr. Haneef, an Indian citizen. Indian human rights organizations, too, did precious little. The young man's Muslim name was apparently all that the Sangh Parivar needed to believe that he was a terrorist.

I shudder to think what Dr. Haneef's fate would have been if he were in Gujarat, and not Australia when the Glasgow bombing took place.

The Haneef case reminds us of the pitfalls of accepting terrorist labels unquestioningly. Even those accused of being terrorists have human rights: their rights include the rights to fair investigation and fair trial.

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