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British inquiry after 'police bugs Muslim MP'

The British govt orders an immediate inquiry into claims that Scotland Yard bugged conversations between a prominent Muslim MP and his childhood friend.

world Updated: Feb 03, 2008 17:00 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar

The British government has ordered an immediate inquiry into claims published on Sunday that Scotland Yard bugged conversations between a prominent Muslim MP and his childhood friend facing terrorism charges.

Sadiq Khan, a high profile MP and government whip, was secretly bugged speaking to a friend and constituent, who is in prison fighting deportation to the US on terror charges, the Sunday Times reported.

Khan is a prominent campaigner against Babar Ahmed's extradition to the US, which accuses him of running a website that raised funds for the Taliban and Chechen terrorists in the 1990s.

Their conversations were said to have been recorded by an electronic listening device hidden in a table during visits to the constituent in prison.

The revelation about the police action, which is a breach of a government edict since the 1970s, prompted Justice Secretary Jack Straw to announce an immediate enquiry.

"It is completely unacceptable for an interview to be conducted by an MP on a constituent matter or in any other issue to be recorded," he said.

Khan, expressing his outrage, told the paper: "From what you have told me, this is an infringement of a citizen's right to have a private meeting with his MP."

The paper says it has seen a document showing there were internal concerns about bugging the MP, who is also a lawyer, but it went ahead anyway.

During their meetings, the two men were reported to have discussed strategies for the campaign against Ahmed's deportation, with MP briefing the suspect on a meeting in the parliament against a 2003 law that would allow Ahmed's extradition to the US.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported the decision to bug Khan may have been taken by someone in the upper echelons of Scotland Yard.

The bugging of MPs by police has been barred in Britain since 1966 by the Labour government headed by Harold Wilson, who himself was bugged by secret agents because of his alleged leftist leanings.

The so-called Wilson Doctrine is said to be an 'edict'.

There were concerns the scandal could undermine relations between Muslim communities and the government, particularly because Khan is a progressive Muslim who has been trying to reassure members of Muslim communities to engage with government.

Andrew Mackinlay, a Labour colleague, said: "The bugging of Sadiq Khan is very dangerous indeed. It is totally unacceptable that MPs' conversations with constituents are bugged by the security services or the police.

"It is an affront to democracy and has all the hallmarks of a totalitarian regime. No one is suggesting that MPs should be above the law, but when behaving as MPs and dealing with people's liberty that must be sacrosanct as it is with lawyers." Khan, 37, said.

The MP is a former chairman of Liberty, the human rights group, and used to be a legal adviser to the Muslim Council of Britain. As a lawyer he was "a thorn in the side of the Metropolitan police" over controversial malpractice charges, the Sunday Times reported.