Detained Under UK Terrorism Law, Whistleblower Says Police Questioned His Support For Assange

Detained Under UK Terrorism Law, Whistleblower Says Police Questioned His Support For Assange
Craig Murray, author, human rights activist, whistleblower, and former United Kingdom ambassador to Uzbekistan | Credit: Mohamed Elmaazi

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On his way back home from Iceland, British whistleblower and former diplomat Craig Murray was stopped by police and interrogated at Scotland's Glasgow Airport under Schedule 7 of the United Kingdom Terrorism Act 2000.

Murray was subjected to a barrage of questions on October 16 for nearly an hour.

The questions partly focused on his sources of income and his connection to WikiLeaks, the Don’t Extradite Assange campaign, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his family.

The former diplomat has since made his way to Switzerland to, in his words, “seek protection from the United Nations.” Sharof Azizov of the Switzerland-based group Justice for All International, and Emeritus Professor of International Law Douwe Korff, have co-authored a letter detailing Murray’s situation and expressing their “grave concern” over his Schedule 7 stop.

The letter, which is addressed to a number of U.N. experts known as special rapporteurs and based in Geneva, requests an urgent meeting to discuss Murray’s case, and the use of terrorism laws to “intimidate” and “silence” journalists and activists.

The U.N. experts addressed in the letter include the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

'You Do Not Have A Right To A Lawyer'

The powers granted to “examining officers” to question people arriving in the U.K., at any air, sea or land port, are incredibly broad. A person can be detained and interrogated for up to six hours without being arrested. The normal rights afforded to people questioned by the police (“Miranda warnings,” as they are known in the U.S.) do not apply. 

Murray, who said that he was “used to life being a bit strange,” told The Dissenter that three police officers, two male and one female, were waiting for him after passport control. “They just walked up to me, identified themselves as police and asked to see my passport.” 

“They then took me to a small room, it was like a small office. I sat down and they said, ‘We are detaining you. You are not arrested, you are detained, therefore you do not have the right to a lawyer, you do not have the right to remain silent,’” Murray added. 

When police asked about his job, he explicitly identified himself as a “journalist”.

“They didn’t identify themselves at all. They didn’t show anything with their names on. No badges, they were just in plain clothes,” he said.

The Terrorism Act 2000 was controversial at the time that it was passed by the U.K. Parliament over a year before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The law permits detention without charge for 48 hours, and subsequent amendments allow detention for up to 28 days without charge, “the longest of any common law country," according to the U.K.-based civil liberties group JUSTICE.

The government may ban organizations and criminalize association with those organizations as well as speech deemed to be supportive of those groups or organizations.

Groups banned under the Terrorism Act include those associated with the Basque, Kurdish, Tamil, and Palestinian struggles for self-determination. Entire U.K.-based diaspora communities have found themselves subject to stops, interrogations, surveillance, arrest, and asset seizures under the various U.K. terrorism laws.

Returning From Assange Defense Meeting In Iceland

Murray recalled that there was a pamphlet on the table, which provided information about Schedule 7, but he was not given the opportunity to read from it before the interrogation began. “They immediately went into asking me questions.”

“They read to me from a paper… everything they said to me, ‘you do not have a right to remain silent, you do not have the right to a lawyer,’ was read out… He was reading from a script,” Murray recalled. They did not tell Murray what rights he had, nor did they say whether there was any time limit in effect.

Murray, a longtime supporter of detained WikiLeaks publisher and journalist Julian Assange, said he was asked where he had been and what he had been doing.

“I had been in Iceland at a coordinating meeting of the campaign for Julian Assange. While I was there, I attended a demonstration about Palestine in front of the Icelandic parliament,” he shared.

“They asked me whether I was going to attend any Palestine demos in the U.K. I said, ‘I have no plans, but probably yes’. Then they asked me how I chose who to share a platform with [when I spoke] at demonstrations, which is a strange question. I replied that, normally, I don’t know who I was sharing a platform with, that these things can go on for ages.” He informed the police that he typically will read his statement and then leave the stage.

Murray mentioned to police that he trusted the Stop the War Coalition and so he would speak at their events.

'Are You Financed By WikiLeaks?'

“They were keen to tie me to Assange or WikiLeaks,” Murray said. They asked, “‘Are you financed by [Don't Extradite Assange]? Are you financed by WikiLeaks? Are you financed by the Assange Family?” The answer to all of those questions was “no,” Murray added.

“I wouldn’t even know why [they asked these questions]. Even if the answer was yes, I don’t know what the crime would be.” The police also demanded to know if Murray belonged to any groups.

“I’m not really a member of anything,” he said, other than the pro-Scottish independence Alba Party and the FDA, a trade union for civil servants.

The police were engaged in a “fishing” expedition, according to Murray. 

“They went through my pockets. What’s this? What’s that?” There was an old boarding card for Dublin, among his items. “What were you doing at Dublin?” they asked. “A debate at Trinity College,” he responded. “What were you doing in Brussels?” they asked. “Attending a human rights conference, focused on Julian Assange,” he answered.

Overall, Murray described the questioning as “vague and unfocused.” But they did give special attention to his finances. “They asked me, where does your income come from? I said from my subscribers to my blog and my civil service pension.”

The interrogators seized Murray’s laptop and phone, and took photocopies of all of his documents, including bank cards, library card, and Alba Party membership card.

While they returned his laptop, Murray still has yet to have his phone returned to him.

The law says that seized items should be returned within seven days. He was told his phone was being retained for “the purpose of investigation,” though Murray has yet to find out what investigation. “I still don’t know what the hell is happening.”

Targeting Journalists And Human Rights Activists

Journalists, activists, and human rights workers are among the hundreds of thousands of everyday men, women, and children who have been subjected to Schedule 7 stops.

Schedule 7, which was even more expansive a decade ago, allows police, customs agents, and immigration officers to stop any adult or child and subject them to questioning. 

No evidence or suspicion is required for a person to be subjected to a Schedule 7 stop.

Refusing to answer questions is a criminal offence under the Terrorism Act. Often DNA and fingerprints are taken from those interrogated, but that didn’t happen in Murray’s case.

It is an offense under the Terrorism Act to refuse to allow the police to seize electronic devices or provide passwords for access to those devices.Typically, answers given during a Schedule 7 stop cannot be used as evidence against an individual in court, although there are a number of exceptions, including if one is deemed to have “willfully obstructed” or “frustrated” a search or interrogation. 

British journalist Matt Broomfield, who co-founded the Rojava Information Center, based in northeast Syria, was interrogated under Schedule 7 for five hours in August about his reporting, for the second time.

In May, investigative journalist Kit Klarenberg, who has contributed to The Dissenter, was also stopped and interrogated for five hours about his journalism and his political views, under Schedule 3 of the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which also grants authorities the same suspicionless stop powers that exist in Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.

French journalist and editor Ernest Moret was arrested in April after he refused to give police passcodes for his phone and computer during a Schedule 7 stop, in April this year, when he arrived to attend the London Book Fair.

In 2017, Muhammad Rabbani, the director of the U.K.-based human rights group CAGE, was convicted under the Terrorism Act for refusing to give police the password to his computer during a Schedule 7 stop, which had information about torture survivors. 

David Miranda, Brazilian lawmaker and husband of U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald, was notoriously detained and interrogated for nine hours in 2013 when he traveled through the U.K. while Greenwald was publishing documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Murray is now being represented by Aamer Anwar, a well-known Scottish human rights lawyer. They have contacted authorities for information about why he was detained.

The 59 year-old retired diplomat was removed from his post as British ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2004, following a leaked memo where he raised “serious doubts” about the “wisdom of U.S. and British policy” in the central Asian country.

After resigning from the U.K. Foreign Office the following year, Murray became a prominent blogger and commentator focusing on politics, human rights, and civil liberties.

In December 2021, The Dissenter published an exclusive interview with the former career diplomat, after he spent four months in prison over his reporting on the criminal trial against former Scottish First Minister Alexander Salmond. He was the first person to be imprisoned for media contempt of court in 70 years, according to his lawyers.

Murray completed a U.S. speaking tour in September. “Nobody is paying me to be here to campaign for Julian, other than the subscribers to this blog who fund in a wider sense all of my activity,” he wrote on September 16. “Where there have been paid ticket events, the money is not for me. I have received some contributions towards expense[s], totaling about $850, which doesn’t even meet my initial [airfare].”

Between 2009 and 2019, 419,000 people have been subjected to Schedule 7 stops, according to data analysed by CAGE. Out of those, only 83 were charged with an offense and only 30 people, less than 0.007% of those stopped, have been convicted of an offense.

The government refuses to release the data it has on those stopped and interrogated between 2000 and 2009, including on their real or perceived religion. Although a 2014 report by Cambridge University determined that 88 percent of those stopped were Muslim.

Although use of Schedule 7 has been declining, its use against minor children, and prosecutions over social media posts, has been rising to “record level,” according to CAGE.

Since the year 2000, the U.K. government has passed a new “terror” or “national security” law, on average, once every year and a half. The National Security Act 2023, under which journalists could face life in prison, represents the most recent draconian addition to the U.K.’s national security state.

People targeted by U.K. authorities using “national security” and “terrorism” legislation, such as Schedule 7, include those associated with the Kurdish, Tamil, Palestinian, Basque and Somali movements for self-determination, those who simply happen to hail from these ethnic communities (regardless of whether they have engaged in political activism), critics of the U.S.-led "War on Terror," and more broadly, critics of the foreign policy of Western governments.

There has also been a steady increase in the use of “terror” powers to target journalists in the U.K., with Craig Murray as the latest example.