The Australian government’s high-handed action verging on vengefulness against Mohammed Haneef has raised fundamental questions about the character of, and justice behind, Australia’s anti-terror and immigration laws. Describing the anti-terror laws as “draconian” and characterising the Haneef case as “a shambles,” an editorial in the country’s leading newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, takes the government to task for failing to strike “the right balance between protecting national security and the rights of individuals.” Referring to Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews’ cancellation, immediately after bail was granted, of Dr. Haneef’s visa on character grounds and on the basis of ‘reasonable suspicion,’ the newspaper observes that “suspicion breeds suspicion, and increasingly, the general public smells a rat.” The 142-page transcript of the interrogation of the Indian doctor by the Australian Federal Police (accessible at www.thehindu.com), which was posted on the internet by The Australian and then taken off under government pressure, exposes the authoritarian mindset and indeed bloody-mindedness behind the Howard government’s fight against terrorism.
But the problem is also flagrant double standards. A few days ago three Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) operatives, Arumugam Rajeevan, Aruran Vinayagamoorthy, and Sivarajah Yathavan, charged with supporting and raising funds for the Sri Lankan terrorist group, were given bail by Australian courts. The LTTE is the quintessential terrorist organisation — one of the world’s most powerful in the use of terror tactics against both the state and innocent civilians. It has been banned or designated as terrorist in India, Malaysia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry estimates that up to 30 per cent of funds the LTTE collects from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora comes from Australia. Canberra might regard the estimate as exaggerated but it cannot deny that major material support comes to the LTTE from Down Under. It is strange that while Australia treats the LTTE as a terrorist organisation along with 25 others for asset freezing purposes in compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1371 of 2001, it has not thought it fit to proscribe the organisation under the country’s domestic laws. A comparison with the actions unleashed to deny Dr. Haneef his liberty — on the basis of a suspicion that he is a ‘terrorist’ and must be treated as such unless he is able to prove the opposite, essentially for giving his unexpired British SIM card to a distant relative who has been charged with involvement in terrorism — highlights double standards of a shocking kind.