Police admit error, pay damages after forcing woman to remove hijab

A Muslim woman has won a legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police after they admitted to violating her human rights when she was forced to remove her hijab during a Schedule 7 stop.

The police settled out of court and paid £15,000 to 25 year old “Asiyah” who pursued a judicial review against the police after she was coerced to remove her hijab at Heathrow airport in October 2018.

Schedule 7 laws allow the authorities at border points to detain individuals on mere suspicion alone. Statistics show they have been used disproportionately against ethnic minorities and Muslims.

The police also conceded:

  • That removing her hijab and taking photos of her breached her human rights.
  • The retention of the photos was unlawful.
  • The taking of her DNA and fingerprints was unlawful due to lack of informed consent.
  • The retention of her DNA and fingerprint data was unlawful.

The officers who asked Asiyah to remove her hijab were men but a female officer took the photos in privacy.

A transcript of a recorded interview with her and male officers reveals that police told her that “we can take photographs that we need by force.”

In the transcript, officers told Asiyah: “You might end up being arrested because you wouldn’t let us take a photograph of your hair” and “I have no idea [of] the positioning of your ears on your face. Like, you might not even have any ears. We don’t know what you look like.”

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“Dehumanising” and “embarrassing” 

Following the legal victory Asiyah said: “Being forced to remove my hijab was the most dehumanising and embarrassing experience of my life. I was made to feel worthless. I felt that my honour had been violated. Schedule 7 is a horrifying experience for a young woman like myself. The fact that the police can behave in such a way without any repercussions is frightening.

“It wasn’t easy challenging the police, but with the help of CAGE and my lawyers, I was given the moral support to continue this case, so that no Muslim women should ever have to face this same violation.”

Anne McMurdie, from Birnberg and Pierce Solicitors who represented Asiyah, said: “Schedule 7 powers are draconian and wide-ranging. The police must exercise these extraordinary powers with respect for the rights of religious observance of those they stop.

“It is concerning that there is no guidance or policy about when a woman can be compelled to remove her hijab when she is detained under Schedule 7. This lack of guidance has resulted in cases where powers are exercised improperly, where women have been photographed unlawfully without their hijab against their wishes and their photograph has been retained, perhaps indefinitely, on a police database.”

Muhammad Rabbani, Director of advocacy group CAGE which assisted Asiya throughout her case, added: “Asiyah’s victory is a testament to her strength of character and bravery. She pursued a judicial review against the police in order to ensure no other Muslim woman faces what she had to go through. We are proud to have supported her throughout her case and many other women who have experienced the same.

“It is clear the police knew they were discriminating against Muslim women and therefore opted to settle in order to avoid Asiyah’s case setting a precedent for other women that have had their hijab forcibly removed. It’s high time Schedule 7 is scrapped.

“Coercing Muslim women to remove their headscarves at Schedule 7, despite not being suspected of any wrongdoing, is a shocking violation with far reaching psychological impact. These revelations are evidence of the Islamophobic nature of Schedule 7 powers and why we’ve consistently called for their repeal.”

CAGE says an increasing number of Muslim women have approached them to complain of being “violated” and “humiliated” at Schedule 7 stops by officers compelling them to remove their hijabs for photographs.

Last year CAGE sent a letter to the All Parliamentary Group on British Muslims demanding that it takes immediate action to investigate the Home Office over the discrimination recorded at Schedule 7 stops.

“The APPG on British Muslims has a mandate to investigate Islamophobia. Following this case and the testimonies that we’ve made public, the APPG must take immediate steps to investigate the Home Office over its discriminatory operation of Schedule 7 powers.,” CAGE said.

So far the APPG has yet to take any action.

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