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UK/Spain: Spanish lawyer questioned using anti-terrorism powers in King's Cross
01 December 2007
Gustavo Garcia, a lawyer from Vigo (Galicia) and member of the civil liberties and human rights observatory Esculca, and Mahmut Colak, a Kurd who has Spanish nationality and resides in London, were held and questioned separately for over three hours on arrival at 8 a.m. at London's Saint Pancras train station from Brussels on 6 December 2007.
Colak was also questioned by British immigration officers in Brussels, causing them both to miss the train on which they had originally planned to travel to London. They had participated in the "Fourth International Conference about the EU, Turkey and the Kurds"
on 3 and 4 December, endorsed by the European Parliament and whose patrons included bishop Desmond Tutu and Norman Mailer. They were informed that they were being held for "Examination" under the "Terrorism Act 2000", applicable to people who are, or have been, "concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism", to ascertain "whether you appear to be such a person" prior to detention.
Garcia's account describes the questioning as "exhaustive" and concerning all aspects of his professional and personal life (including his religion and relationship with the Kurds), and as focussing largely on the matters discussed in the Brussels conference. Their luggage was searched, and all the documents in his suitcase were perused "sheet by sheet", including confidential documents pertaining to his work as a lawyer.
When some documents were photocopied, after Garcia objected to this, he was told that under the Terrorism Act, "if you deliberately fail to comply with any of these duties, you could be prosecuted under paragraph 18 (1) of Schedule 7". Such duties included making any documentation requested by the official available, resulting in the copying of all the contact details in his mobile phone by copying the SIM card, and his having to provide his e-mail account's username and password to allow them to access it. From the documentation he had, provided at the conference and relating to the Kurdish issue, the conference programme, list of participants, final resolutions and list of participants, as well as Abdullah Ocalan's "Proposal for a solution of the Kurdish Question in Turkey" were selected for photocopying.
Garcia expresses his concern that although their participation in the conference was "entirely irreproachable", the police officers deemed it sufficient to "question us in application of the Terrorism Act and deprive us of the basic rights of privacy of data and communications and of our very freedom, during over three hours' questioning, in spite of having asserted what kind of conference it was from the very first moment…".
He argues that the fact that there was no other possible reason for his being viewed as a threat to British security than his travelling with a Kurd, proves how the application of this exceptional legislation is "indiscriminate and constitutes a general practice" rather than an exception, and wonders how other people are treated, if this treatment is reserved to a lawyer working on human rights issues who is well aware of his rights.