Police continue to misuse Terrorism Act to harass People of Colour and political activists

UK border
Eliza Egret

The majority of white people in the UK might not know about Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. It’s a controversial power, used by the police on the UK’s borders. Under the act, the police have the power to detain and interrogate people, supposedly for the purpose of investigating terrorism. But campaigners have argued for years that Schedule 7 is Islamophobic and racist, and urgently needs to be abolished.

Faking a terrorism database

On 16 June, Middle East Eye published an account from an ex-counterterrorism police officer. Kevin Maxwell, who left the police in 2012, alleged that officers faked Schedule 7 data. He admitted that the police sifted through airport landing cards and added passengers’ names to the terrorism database. That’s right: in order to ‘meet targets’, the police allegedly faked the system, adding people to a list, as if they had been stopped under Schedule 7. It should come as no surprise that the police added Black or Asian-sounding names.

Maxwell explained:

They would sift through the cards, looking for what they considered non-white names. These passengers would then be processed, using the information on the cards, and put onto a police database as if they had been stopped.

CAGE is an organisation which campaigns against discriminatory state policies. Its managing director Muhammad Rabbani has been stopped under Schedule 7 over 20 times. He argued that:

The Home Office must now release the figures of people that have been added to the police terrorism blacklist, and inform them how they can remove themselves immediately.

Furthermore, we call upon the police watchdog and the information commissioner to urgently investigate how in order to meet Schedule 7 quotas, unsuspecting members of the public had their information potentially illegally uploaded on a terrorism database, causing them unknown amount of grief each time they travel.

We call on other police officers to come forward and share their experiences of Islamophobia and racism within the police. Schedule 7 is institutionally Islamophobic and racist, it needs to be abolished.

Violating and humiliating Muslim women

In 2014, a group of Cambridge University students examined data of people who had been stopped under Schedule 7. They found that 88% of the sample were Muslim. In March 2020, police were forced to pay compensation to a woman who took action against the police after she was stopped under Schedule 7 and forced to remove her hijab.

On top of this, CAGE has reported that an increasing number of Muslim women have:

complain[ed] of being “violated” and “humiliated” at Schedule 7 stops, by officers compelling them to remove their hijabs for photographs. …

The notion that forcing a woman to remove her hijab, akin to a type of religious strip search, has anything to do with the stated purpose of Schedule 7 – to assess whether an individual is a security risk – does not stand up to scrutiny.

The use of Schedule 7 on activists

If someone is stopped under Schedule 7, they must answer police questions. If they refuse, they risk prosecution and imprisonment. The police are likely to take the person’s photo, search their belongings, confiscate their phone and laptop, and take fingerprints and DNA.

The police have also used Schedule 7 to detain activists numerous times. This year, Kent police were forced to pay compensation to Tom Anderson, an anarchist writer and organiser. Anderson sued the police for unlawful detention.

Intelligence gathering

Anderson has been stopped under Schedule 7 a handful of times, but the police have never questioned him about terrorism. Instead, he has been interrogated about anti-capitalist protests, campaign groups, articles he has written, past trips to Palestine, personal relationships, and his religious beliefs. His phones and laptops have been seized.

Therezia Cooper is another activist who has been stopped and interrogated. In 2013, she told Vice:

What they kept saying during the interview was, ‘We don’t get to talk to you very often, so this is a chance to talk to you.’ When activists get arrested, people tend to give no-comment interviews, so they can’t use that as a kind of fishing expedition. But at the airport, because of this legislation, you have to answer.

Targeting anti-capitalists

Anderson argues that the state also uses Schedule 7 to harass those who want to build a world beyond capitalism. In a press release he stated:

Right now, Schedule 7 is being used on a large scale to target Kurdish freedom movement organisers. This is because they are part of a movement which wants to move beyond the state and capitalism…

But we also need to remember that if our actions and ideas truly challenge the state and power, then we will always experience repression. Repression like this is intended to divide us. To make us too timid to challenge the system because we might be hounded, detained, interrogated and branded a ‘terrorist’. We need to stand with those who are being harassed and put under surveillance, and carry on working to build a movement which can outgrow the current system.

Police response

Kent Police told The Canary:

Officers work with partner agencies to police Kent’s borders and make regular checks on vehicles and individuals passing in and out of the UK.

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act provides officers with powers to determine whether people travelling through borders are, or have been, concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, and passengers are selected for examination using a whole range of factors including their reason and arrangements for travel.

Kent Police is committed to ensuring these powers are used proportionately, and are both necessary and effective. The use of this legislation is regularly and independently reviewed.

Scrap Schedule 7

CAGE argues that:

Of the 419,000 people stopped under Schedule 7 since 2009, only 30 of them have been convicted… This means that the conviction rate for Schedule 7 stops from 2010 to 2019 – the only years for which the necessary figures are available – is a mere 0.007%.

CAGE goes on to say that:

This power is a tool for abusing minority communities, crushing down on dissenting voices and has allowed for the building of a sprawling policing surveillance infrastructure.

So how do we fight these powers? Anderson says:

I would encourage comrades who have been stopped under Schedule 7 to take similar claims against the police. These kinds of claims, if successful, might help to limit the police’s use of this repressive power a little.

The allegations that the police faked their own terrorism database need to be investigated, and officers should be held accountable. It’s high time that these traumatising and racist powers were revoked once and for all.

Featured image via Flickr – Danny Howard

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