Muslim activist faces prison for keeping silent

IssueJune - July 2017
News by Milan Rai

On 17 May, a British Muslim human rights campaigner was charged with a terrorism offence for refusing to give police the passwords to his laptop and his mobile phone.

Muhammad Rabbani, international director of the London-based human rights group CAGE, was detained and questioned at Heathrow airport in November under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

He refused to surrender his passwords on the grounds that his devices contained confidential testimony relating to torture.

Under schedule 7, there is no right to silence and it is a criminal offence not to answer questions, or to refuse to be strip-searched or to give a DNA sample. It is an offence to withhold the password to your phone or laptop.

Tens of thousands of people, disproportionately Asians, are detained and questioned under schedule 7 every year at British ports and airports.

According to CAGE, Rabbani has been detained under schedule 7 over 20 times in the past decade, and has always refused to provide his passwords.

This was the first time he has been arrested for his refusal. Rabbani believes action is being taken against him because his laptop contained information about alleged torture involving US intelligence agencies.

Rabbani has a hearing at Westminster magistrates court on 20 June. If convicted, he faces up to three months in prison.


CAGE, which represents people who have been unjustly affected by the US-led ‘war on terror’, has been under sustained attack by the authorities for years.

In 2014, CAGE’s bank accounts were shut down, bringing the group to the edge of closure.

In March 2015, the charity commission forced the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) and the Roddick Foundation to commit themselves to never funding CAGE again.

In October 2015, because of a judicial review launched by CAGE, the charity commission was forced to reverse its position, freeing JRCT to exercise its own discretion.