Australia denies rift with India over terror suspect

Australia on Wednesday played down the risk of a diplomatic rift with India over the treatment of a doctor on terror charges, as he appealed against a government decision to keep him locked up.

Australia denies rift with India over terror suspect
"I don't see any rift developing in relation to this matter," Prime Minister John Howard told reporters, as several other senior ministers pressed the same point in a series of media interviews.

India on Tuesday summoned Australia's top diplomat in New Delhi to convey its "concern" over the treatment of Mohammed Haneef, 27, who has been charged in connection with failed car bomb attacks in Britain last month.

A court granted Haneef bail on Monday on the grounds that there was no evidence of a direct link to the attacks but the government immediately revoked his visa, ensuring that he would remain in detention.

"All the Indian government has done is to go through the proper processes of inquiry about one of its citizens," Howard said.

"We would do exactly the same thing in the same circumstances if the roles were reversed."

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock also said the concerns raised by the Indian government did not indicate a diplomatic rift.

"What I understand the Indian government said was that they were concerned that Dr Haneef is dealt with justly," Ruddock told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"I don't know that they were saying he was being dealt with unjustly."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said a main concern was how the Indian media was covering Australia's detention of the doctor.

"The important thing for Australia and India is that we don't let the media, particularly, of course, here the Indian media, drive the relationship -- that we make sure we keep fully in contact with each other."

In a day of rapid developments in the case, Haneef's lawyers lodged an appeal against the revocation of the doctor's visa in the Federal Court and a hearing was set down for August 8.

The doctor was also moved from police cells to a high-security prison in Brisbane where he is being held under special conditions for terror suspects, including solitary confinement except for one hour's exercise a day, officials said.

The government's action in blocking his release on bail has been widely criticised by legal and civil rights groups, who argue that it has undermined the principle of an accused being presumed innocent until proven guilty.

In turn, the government has been angered by the leak to a newspaper of Haneef's statement to police shortly after his arrest on July 2.

According to published details of the statement, Haneef described himself as a moderate Muslim and said he knew nothing about the failed bombings, which have been linked to two of his second cousins living in Britain.

Police commissioner Mick Keelty said the leak had undermined the prosecution case and officials were exploring whether an offence, such as contempt of court, had been committed.

Haneef's barrister Stephen Keim later admitted he had leaked the document, saying he did so to counter "an aggressive campaign of selective leaking" by authorities designed to suggest the case against the doctor was strong.

AFP

Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Temmuz 2007, 16:45
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