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Australian Govt accused of undermining courts

Human rights lawyers accuse the Australian Govt of undermining the courts by ordering the detention of Haneef, despite a court ruling he could be released on bail.
Reuters | By James Grubel, Canberra
UPDATED ON JUL 17, 2007 01:40 PM IST

Human rights lawyers on Tuesday accused the Australian government of undermining the courts by ordering the detention of an Indian doctor linked to a British bomb plot despite a court ruling he could be released on bail.

An Australian court granted Mohamed Haneef bail on Monday, saying he had no known links to a terrorist organisation, but the government then cancelled his visa and ordered him to be kept in immigration detention in Sydney until his trial.

The government said it suspected Haneef had associated with people involved in terrorism in Britain and cited police information which it said it could not disclose. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said he acted in the national interest.

Two people in Britain have also been charged over the plot to explode car bombs in London and Glasgow.

Senior lawyers now say it is unclear if Haneef will receive a fair trial in Australia, where he is charged with recklessly supporting terrorism by providing a relative in Britain with his mobile phone SIM card.

"It's an example of the executive being willing to trump the decision of an independent judicial officer and in a sense it brings the system into disrepute, " barrister Lex Lasry told Australian radio on Tuesday.

Lasry, chair of the Victorian Criminal Bar Association and an observer at the Guantanamo Bay terrorism trial of Australian David Hicks, said the government action was politically driven.

Fellow human rights lawyer Julian Burnside said the government decision to cancel Haneef's visa was an abuse of power, interfered with his trial and was designed only to keep him in detention.

"It is obviously an interference with it," Burnside told local radio. "It interferes with the decision to grant bail, it interferes with Dr Haneef's ability to prepare his trial, it interferes with the circumstances in which he is held."

Political motives

After 11 years in power, Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government remains well behind in the opinion polls, but continues to rate highly when it comes to national security.

The opposition Labor Party, also wanting to be seen as strong on national security, supports the government's action.

But Labor premier in the state of Queensland said while he supported anti-terrorism laws, the national government needed to explain exactly why it was still detaining Haneef.

"There is a level of cynicism around and they need to explain it better. For God's sake explain to Australians why you have taken this course of action," said Queensland premier Peter Beattie.

The small Australian Democrats party criticised Haneef's detention, saying his detention on immigration matters was in contempt of the courts.

"The government is throwing away centuries-old basic freedoms for base political advantage," Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett said in a statement.

Burnside said the government's actions appeared politically motivated to help it recover support ahead of an election.

"All of this is increasingly looking like an election stunt by a government that thinks it's in a bit of strife," he said.

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