CAIRO - Civil rights lawyers have accused the New York Police Department of creating a climate of fear for US Muslims by sending informants into mosques and institutions to spy on the community.
The NYPD is continuing a massive, all-encompassing dragnet for intelligence concerning anything connected with Muslim activity through intrusive infiltration and record-keeping about all aspects of life, politics and worship, stated the court filing cited by The New York Times.The NYPD operates on a theory that conservative Muslim beliefs and participation in Muslim organizations are themselves bases for investigation.
In a lawsuit filed on Monday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, a group of civil rights lawyers accused NYPD of infiltrating Muslim institutions, including mosques, student associations and cafes.
The department also retained records of what police officers and informers overheard in such locations.
"My NYPD boss Steve told me that the NYPD did not think the John Jay Muslim Student Association was doing anything wrong, [and that] they just wanted to make sure," Shamiur Rahman, a former NYPD infiltrator who was paid as much as $1,500 a month to spy on the Muslim community, told The Guardian.
In a declaration filed as part of the motion, Rahman describes how he took photos of worshippers at mosques, took down cell phone numbers of those who had signed up for Islamic education classes, and provided images of Muslim students at John Jay College.
"The members of the MSA were religious Muslims, and according to Steve, the NYPD considers being a religious Muslim a terrorism indicator," he said.
Anger has grown against the New York police following reports that the NYPD used undercover agents to spy on Muslim communities.
A report by the Associated Press said that the NYPD sent out undercover officers into ethnic communities to track daily life and monitor mosques as well as Muslim student organizations.
However, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the practice, saying it does not take religion into account in its policing.
Police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly also denied targeting Muslims in its policing, saying it only followed leads.
Fear Climate The lawyers said the NYPD tactics of spying on Muslims have eroded confidence in the US legal system.
"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, a 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."
Chevigny accused the police of ignoring rules that prevent the spying and harassment of political activists in the 1960s and 70s.
The NYPD has deceived this court and counsel, as well as the public, concerning the character and scope of its activities in violation of the guidelines, the legal filing said.
The Handschu guidelines, named after Barbara Handschu, the plaintiff in a lawsuit over similar widespread harassment of anti-war protesters by the police's so-called Red Squad in the 1960s, were imposed as part of a landmark settlement in 1985.
The case was settled with the imposition of the Handschu guidelines, which prohibited investigations of political and religious organizations unless there was "specific information" that the group was linked to past or present crime.
Since 9/11, Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
Anti-Muslim sentiments sharply grew in the United States over plans to build a mosque near the 9/11 site in New York, resulting in attacks on Muslims and their property.A recent report by CAIR and the University of California said that Islamophobia is on the rise in the US.