Official figures of the number of people stopped and held under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act show that Asians are up to 42 times more likely than white people to be targeted by police.
The counter-terrorism power enables police to detain people entering the country for up to nine hours without any reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime.
Those being held do not even have the rights of a suspected criminal: they do not have a right to remain silent, failure to answer questions can be treated as a criminal offence, their interviews can take place without a lawyer present and if they wish to use a lawyer they must pay for the legal fees.
British Muslims now claim that the police and MI5 are abusing this power and are holding people and forcing them to agree to spy on other members of Muslim communities.
Asif Ahmed claimed to have been stopped at Edinburgh airport where he was asked questions about his faith.
He said: “They asked if I would like to work with special branch, to keep an eye on the Muslim community in Edinburgh. They asked me three times. They said do it covertly.”
Another person has alleged that an MI5 officer threatened him with torture abroad when he refused to be recruited as a spy.
Officials state that ethnic profiling does not take place when stopping people under the counter-terrorism measures. They claim that “officers deployed at ports do not single out particular ethnic groups for examination”.
But the figures released on Tuesday (17 May) show that, under schedule 7, of people held for over an hour 41% were Asian, 19% were white, 10% were black and 30% others including Middle Eastern and Chinese.
Criminology experts believe the figures support claims of ethnic profiling and that the use of counter-terrorism powers currently appears arbitrary and discriminatory. If this view becomes universally held, the power could be taken away by human rights judges. This previously happened to the power to stop and search in the street without suspicion.
The National Policing Improvement Agency issued guidelines for officers in 2009 to highlight the dangers of ethnic profiling. The agency advised officers to “take particular care to ensure that the selection of people for examination is not based solely on their perceived ethnic background or religion”.
The agency warned officers not to act in a way that discriminates since “to do so would be unlawful”.
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