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Issue 286, Friday 22 February 2013 - 12 Rabi' al-Akhar 1434

NYPD spying on Muslims violates rules, say civil rights lawyers

By Elham Asaad Buaras

Protestors carry placards blasting the NYPD’s spying tactic

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has filed paper against the New York Police Department (NYPD) accusing the force of reviving political spying of the 1960s that was banned under a landmark legal ruling (Handschu guidelines).

The motion filed on February 4 in a District Court by Profeta & Eisentein and the NYCU will seek an injunction against non-intelligence based surveillance of Muslims and a new court-appointed auditor to oversee police activities.

Named after the plaintiff Barbara Handschu the Handschu guidelines were created as a result of a lawsuit over similar widespread harassment of anti-war protestors in the 1960s. The case was settled with the imposition of the guidelines, which prohibited investigations of political and religious organisations unless there was “specific information” that the group was linked to past or present crime.

Describing continuing surveillance of Muslims as “widespread and intense,” the NYCU complained that the NYPD has monitored public places where Muslims assemble and has kept records and notes about police observations despite no evidence of unlawful or terror-related activities.

The lawyers said the NYPD’s actions violate the Handschu guidelines that a court had imposed as part of a 1985 landmark settlement with the NYPD.

“There is substantial persuasive evidence that the defendants are conducting investigations into organizations and individuals associated with the Muslim faith and the Muslim community in New York, and have been doing so for years, using intrusive methods, without a reasonable indication of unlawful activity, or a criminal predicate of any sort,” said the lawyer.

They said the NYPD’s actions were so “flagrant and persistent” that an auditor should be appointed.

“Investigations of any community that are not based upon indications of crime create fear, and erode the confidence of a community in the power of a legal system to protect it,” said Paul Chevigny, Professor of Law at New York University and one of five attorneys on the case.

“We brought this motion because even in the face of the startling evidence in the press reports, Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg have declared the NYPD will continue its intrusive secret surveillance program targeting completely innocent activities in Muslim communities, notwithstanding the prohibitions in the Handschu guidelines the NYPD is obliged to follow.”

NYPD Commissioner Raymond, Walter Kelly, dismissed the need for an auditor insisting the current system which includes five district attorneys, a committee that investigates police corruption, the NYPD’s own internal affairs office and the court-imposed Handschu guidelines as sufficient enough.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said surveillance of Muslim communities was lawful and in accordance with the Handschu guidelines.

The NYPD’s spying tactics came to prominence following an exposé by the Associated Press which used internal NYPD documents to reveal the force’s infiltration of dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups.

The motion centres on CIA assisted Zone Assessment Unit, which compiled information on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed.

Police infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and catalogued every Muslim in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.

Legal Director of Muslim Advocates, Glenn Katon, told The Muslim News : “Spying on innocent Americans because of their faith violates the most basic constitutional principles upon which our country was founded. The NYPD must stop its discriminatory practices of singling out Americans because of their faith.”

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