Head of controversial UK Muslim advocacy group convicted over counter-terrorism search

Muhammad Rabbani tells London court that handing over his computer password would compromise the privacy of hundreds of people who went to his group for help

International director of campaign group Cage, Muhammad Rabbani (C) arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London on September 25, 2017, for his trial, after being accused of refusing to reveal his mobile phone password at Heathrow Airport last year. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS
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The head of a controversial UK advocacy group that has supported Muslims arrested for terrorism-related offences has been convicted after refusing to hand over computer password details when he was stopped by police at Heathrow Airport.

Muhammad Rabbani, 36, declined to give the security code for his phone, or password for his computer, saying he was concerned about the impact on hundreds of people who had gone to his charity for help.

He was stopped under anti-terrorism legislation that allows officers to search passengers at ports and airports without having reasonable suspicion that they are involved with terrorism.

Rights groups and watchdogs have raised questions over the use of the tactic, saying that it indiscriminately targets ethnic groups. Prosecutors said Mr Rabbani was not stopped randomly after returning from a wedding in Doha, Qatar but police declined to say what information they had on him before his arrest.

Rabbani claimed that had been stopped between 20 and 30 times previously and had never before handed over the pin code to his phone but was convicted Monday of wilfully obstructing a stop and search under counter-terrorism legislation.


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Judge Emma Arbuthnot said: "I find he took a calculated risk and, as on certain earlier occasions, the police wouldn't take any further action.

"At the time of the stop he was warned over and over he would be committing an offence if he didn't provide the information."

He was given a conditional discharge, meaning he was not fined or sent to jail, and was given flowers by supporters after he left the court.

The London court was told that he declined to tell officers what he did for a living, and claimed that their questioning breached his privacy.

Rabbani’s organisation, Cage, works with Muslim communities and has campaigned against what it considers draconian counter-terrorism legislation, and the government’s anti-radicalisation programme.

The group has acted on behalf of Britons detained in Guantanamo Bay and in Britain after police operations. It was criticised by leading politicians after it emerged that Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton who featured in ISIL propaganda films as an executioner in Syria, had sought advice from Cage over alleged harassment before leaving the country in 2012.

A senior official from the group said that Emwazi had been a “beautiful young man” before he had been radicalised, sparking accusations from politicians that the group was an apologist for terrorism.

He told the court that he had been unwilling to hand over the details because of the people that the group represented. Rabbani said he had about 30,000 documents on his devices relating to a Qatari client allegedly tortured in the US.

"Hundreds of individuals, many vulnerable and many damaged, seek assistance from Cage which helps via hands-on advice and/or referrals to medical doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and/or psychologists and lawyers in this country and abroad,” he said.

"We are trusted by a community that is besieged by hostile press, commentary, executive action and legislation. There are many Muslims, both in this country and beyond, who feel there is nowhere else they can safely go for advice.”