The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Law loaded against detained dozen
- Harassment option out

New Delhi, Aug. 25: Families of some of the 12 men arrested and then let off in Amsterdam have spoken of exploring legal options, but experts say they would not be able to make a case for harassment.

“The 12 can file a case of ‘insult and intimidation’ against the airline for detaining them for no valid reason — they can even claim compensation. But they will have to prove that they were not up to any mischief. In this particular case, the other passengers have said that the detainees were not following instructions given by the crew — that in itself is an offence,” a lawyer, Ujjwal Nikam, said.

A Northwest Airlines flight to Mumbai was escorted back to Schiphol airport shortly after take-off after the 12 passengers, all Indian Muslims, were said to have shown suspicious behaviour.

The men, returning from a trade fair, were later cleared of any intent to cause violence and released.

Their families have alleged that they were targeted because of their religion. If the charge of racial profiling can be established, the passengers may have a case. But, experts said, this would be difficult to prove especially if the airline and the security set-up contend that they were only following the laid-down drill.

In the backdrop of 9/11 and the recent plot to blow up several planes that Britain claims to have uncovered, the benefit of doubt would go to the detaining authorities.

The experts said an investigating agency has the freedom to interrogate suspects in custody. In India, police can detain a person for 24 hours for questioning without court sanction. The rules vary from country to country and the law of the land where an aircraft with suspected hijackers touches down is applied.

Sources said Dutch law allows prosecutors to keep suspects in custody for questioning for three days without court sanction. If the accused face terrorism charges, courts can allow the prosecutors to keep them in custody for another 14 days without evidence.

On handcuffing suspects — as was done with the Indian passengers, who were arrested because they were passing around cellphones and fiddling with plastic packets — experts said this was the norm with people arrested on terrorism charges. Again, every country has its own rules.

Under international convention, when you buy a ticket to travel on a plane or ship, you are automatically submitting yourself under the command of the captain or the pilot whose decisions are considered final, the experts added.

The pilot of an aircraft, which is deemed to be the territory of the country in which it is registered, has all the powers enjoyed by the police and can detain and handcuff a suspect on board.

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