The dropping of charges against Dr Mohammed Haneef in Australia is great news. For an innocent man to be held in custody is bad enough. For him to be detained in a foreign land is even worse. But is it really? Even before the Australian court deemed the charges in the Dr Haneef case to be bogus, the case itself had become a lightning rod for dissent against the Australian government’s till-now relatively untested new anti-terror laws. During the 25 days in which the doctor was in custody — at one point a step away from being charged with being a member of a failed plot to conduct terrorist acts in Britain — it seemed that the Australian police would be able to convince the court that Dr Haneef was not as innocent as many would like to think he was. It could not.
In fact, the system caught its own bunglings in time. A crucial piece of evidence, a SIM card belonging to the accused, was found not, as it was initially reported by the police, in the jeep that was rammed into a wing of the Glasgow airport by Dr Haneef’s cousin Kafeel Ahmed, but in a Liverpool raid conducted later. More and more dots did not join up and the authorities came to the conclusion that Dr Haneef was innocent and that the police had bungled. Australian public opinion also protested against the quick-fix but that alone did not turn things around for Dr Haneef. It was the system catching its own bug and correcting itself.
What would have happened if Dr Haneef had been charged with the same kind of offence here? If one goes by precedents — and Kashmir Times journalist Iftikhar Gilani’s harrowing seven months in Tihar Jail is just one story of justice gone awry — Dr Haneef would probably have been locked away, not for 25 days but for months, and the questions would have been asked later. A lot of effort would also have been made to bend the rules, to fudge the facts for the accused to be deemed guilty of conducting ‘anti-national’ activities. If fortunate, as many unlike Mr Gilani still languishing in jail are not, Dr Haneef would have been released; no apologies, no regrets from the ‘erring’ State. If this sounds cynical, then it would be worth remembering that many more people languish in jails in India for years on charges much more flimsy than the one against Dr Haneef. It’s wonderful that justice has been done to an Indian in Australia. It would be fabulous if justice is done for hundreds of Indians in India.