Rights group Liberty ‘extremely concerned’ as counter-terror police grill family about attending marches in London

Counter-terror police stopped a teenage boy wearing a Palestine flag at a UK airport and demanded: "Have you been to any of the protests?"

The bizarre 40-minute ordeal - a recording of which has been exclusively obtained by openDemocracy - saw an officer repeatedly ask the boy and a family member about their views on the "situation in Palestine", how often they had been on marches in London, and whether they had seen any disorder there.

The pair were handed a leaflet and told that they were legally required to answer any questions under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

They were stopped while travelling abroad to visit family and asked about their plans as well as their opinions about the conflict in the Middle East.

Labour MP John McDonnell said the police's questioning was verging on "entrapment".

Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said the rights group was "extremely concerned by reports that police are treating support for Palestine as evidence in terror investigations".

"The state should not be targeting us for merely exercising our rights to go on demonstrations and marches," she added.

Last week, judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague heard arguments that Israel's destruction of Gaza in the wake of the 7 October Hamas attacks constitutes genocide. According to the Palestinian authorities, at least 24,000 people have been killed there by Israeli forces in three months, while key infrastructure including healthcare has all but collapsed.

The regular marches taking place in London to express solidarity with Palestine and call for a ceasefire in Gaza are legal, and have attracted an estimated cumulative attendance of millions over the past few months.

"There's a lot of wars going on in the world," one of the officers says in the recording. "There are protests every single day in central London," she added. "Why in particular these protests?"

Subsequently, she asked again: "So the two of you go together. How many times have you been?" When told it was "a couple", she replied: "A couple of times. Two times? How many is a couple?"

With one of the officers sounding increasingly exasperated despite the boy's compliance with the process, she asked: "The reason you go is to 'show support'? And what are you supporting?"

The 17-year-old, who we are calling Rashid, is then grilled on whether he's a part of any WhatsApp chats where Palestine is mentioned - and whether he knows any of the hundreds of thousands of people who attend the weekly mass demonstrations, as well as the names of his school, teachers and other personal details.

More than 100 schoolchildren and university students have faced similar "harsh repression and censorship" on Palestine in the past three months, openDemocracy revealed earlier this week.

These alleged cases range from schools telling pupils to remove badges that have "free Palestine" on them to university investigations of people tweeting support for Palestine.

"I'm still shaken," he said. "I had a seizure because of the nightmares I had about the police coming onto the plane and arresting me. Every time, the nightmare would end with me getting shot in the head by an officer."

Rashid felt that officers wanted to goad him and encourage him to lose his temper, and enjoyed watching him get frustrated with their line of questioning on Palestine.

"In our citizenship classes, we were always told about how this country is a democracy," Rashid said. "I just don't feel it. They feel like empty ideas, empty slogans."

McDonnell said: "It's hard to comprehend why a young person would be questioned in this way and what the purpose of the questioning is.

"If no actual offence has been committed, the police have no right to be questioning motivation for attending a legal demonstration. Has it come to it that we are all now to be questioned on why we are attending demonstrations? Especially in dealing with a young person, this line of questioning also verges on a method of entrapment."

Pang at Liberty said the airport stop occurred within a wider context of government crackdowns on expressing solidarity with Palestine - and that the group was particularly concerned with the impact that such state harassment and surveillance might have on Muslims.

"It's vital that we don't let the government exploit this moment of crisis to strip away our rights away further," she said.

Counter-Terror Policing did not respond to questions about whether officers had been told attendance at pro-Palestine marches should be seen as a material factor in terrorism investigations.

From openDemocracy

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