Australia U-turns on doctor's visa decision

/ Source: The Associated Press

An Australian court on Tuesday overturned the government’s decision to cancel the work visa of an Indian doctor cleared of links to the failed terrorist attacks in London and Scotland in June.

However, Federal Court Justice Jeffrey Spender has not reinstated the visa and has left open the potential for the government to cancel the visa again for other reasons.

Spender handed down his decision in the eastern city of Brisbane, where Mohamed Haneef was arrested on July 2 and held for more than three weeks on suspicion of supporting the British plots.

Police later dropped the charge for lack of evidence and Haneef was allowed to return to his native India.

During his detention, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews revoked Haneef’s work visa on character grounds, saying he had a reasonable suspicion the doctor had an “association” with two of the British suspects, Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed.

Spender ruled that Andrews made a technical error in canceling Haneef’s visa on character grounds.   Instead, he said Andrews should have canceled the visa on grounds that London police had informed Australian authorities that Haneef was a suspect in the case and that he had been charged with a terrorism offense at the time the visa was canceled on July 16.

However, Spender said Andrews may no longer be able to use those grounds to cancel Haneef’s visa, and granted the government 21 days to respond to his ruling.

Andrews did not immediately comment, but earlier he said the case would likely go to appeal.

Haneef’s lawyer Peter Russo said he hoped the court would accept the decision “with good grace” and clear the way for the 27-year-old doctor to return to Australia to continue his medical career.

Happy, nervous
In India, Haneef’s cousin and spokesman, Imran Siddiqui, said the whole family was happy about the decision, but nervous about the possibility for an appeal.

“Every time we have positive news from the judiciary, there is bad news also,” he told The Associated Press. “If they appeal, it’s going to be another long matter.”

Haneef had been charged with providing reckless support to a terrorist organization because he gave his cell phone SIM card to one of his second cousins, Sabeel Ahmed, when he left Britain in July last year.

British police have charged Sabeel, 26, with withholding information that could have prevented an act of terrorism.

His brother Kafeel Ahmed, 27, had been in the hospital for a month with burns from the attack at the Glasgow Airport on June 30, which followed a day after two failed car bombings in London. The other man in the car, Iraqi doctor Bilal Abdullah, has been charged with conspiring to set off explosions.

Haneef has repeatedly claimed that he gave his SIM card to his cousin so he could take advantage of extra minutes remaining on the plan, and had no idea of his cousins’ alleged involvement in the terrorist plots.