CAIRO - Accusing police of trampling on religious freedoms, Muslim organizations have filed a lawsuit against the New York Police over spying on the sizable minority and their worship places.
"When a police department turns law-abiding people into suspects because they go to a mosque and not a church or a synagogue, it violates our Constitution's guarantees of equality and religious freedom," Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, told a press conference cited by Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, June 19.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Tuesday, charges that the New York police equates the practice of Islam with suspicious activities.
It calls for ending the New York police surveillance of Muslims and destroying all records compiled by the spying program.
The Associated Press has revealed that the NYPD sent out undercover officers into ethnic communities to track their daily life and monitor mosques as well as Muslim student organizations.
It also revealed that the NYPD intelligence had established so-called Demographics Unit using plainclothes police officers to monitor ethnic groups in the metropolitan region.
The AP also found that the NYPD kept secret files on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims.
According to the agency, police photographed businesses and eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops.
Using this information, the police department built databases showing where Muslims live, pray, buy groceries, and use internet cafes.
The revelations angered US Muslims, who described the police surveillance as a violation of their civil and religious rights.
The debate on the police surveillance has ignited in the past two weeks after revelations that the federal government has secretly collected phone records on a massive scale for years.
Muslims complain that the police surveillance has left their community in a state of fear.
I don't want to subject myself or my congregants to any police scrutiny or worse than that, said Hamid Hassan Raza, the imam of the Brooklyn-based Masjid Al-Ansar.
Raza, one of the defendants, said the police surveillance has made him suspicious of newcomers to the mosque, fearing they might be informants.
The imam says he spent more than $2,000 to record his sermons to use as insurance against any investigation into his comments.
We are not able to speak about these openly because we are afraid.
Asad Dandia, a 20-year-old college sophomore from Brooklyn who co-founded Muslims Giving Back, a charity that feeds the needy, said his group was infiltrated by a police informant.
He said the association with the police informant has left him ostracized and unable to engage in community and religious work.
We have been rejected from our own local mosque, our donations have declined and to this day there are peoplefriends, childhood friendswho do not want to be seen in public with me.
Ramzi Kassem, an attorney representing Dandia in the lawsuit, said the surveillance has left Muslim communities at large reluctant to report everyday crime, fearing routine everyday reactions with police will be used for intelligence gathering purposes.
Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to eight million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
Last year, the CIA launched an investigation into cooperation with NYPD to spy on American Muslims.In 2011, the New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice issued a report criticizing the tactic of US law enforcement agencies in sending paid informants into mosques to instigate and trap Muslims into terror plots.