Pressure is building on British authorities to explain the use of anti-terrorism legislation to detain the partner of an American journalist who published information about U.S. surveillance leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
David Miranda, the partner of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, was held for questioning at London’s Heathrow Airport for nearly nine hours Sunday, the maximum allowed under Schedule 7 of Britain’s Terrorism Act before a person must be released or formally arrested.
The Brazilian government issued a statement saying the detention of Miranda, who is a Brazilian national, was “without justification” and calling on British authorities to ensure such an incident does not happen again.
Senior politicians, human rights activists and an independent reviewer in Britain have also expressed alarm about the incident, according to British news reports.
Widney Brown of the London-based rights group Amnesty International told the Guardian that Miranda’s detention was “unlawful and inexcusable.”
"There is simply no basis for believing that David Michael Miranda presents any threat whatsoever to the UK government,” Brown was quoted as saying. “The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass him and his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for his role in analyzing the data released by Edward Snowden.”
Keith Vaz, chairman of the British Home Affairs parliamentary select committee, said he would ask the police to explain why terrorism legislation was used in a case that did not appear to be terrorism-related.
“They may have a perfectly reasonable explanation,” Vaz told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “But if this is what is going to happen, if we are going to use the act in this way, for those issues that are not related to terrorism, then at least we need to know, so everyone is prepared.”
He said it was extraordinary that authorities were seeking the partners of people involved in disclosures by Snowden, who is wanted by the United States and has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
Britain’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, said it was unusual for a person to be held for the full nine hours permitted under Schedule 7, which allows authorities to stop and question people at the country's borders. In most cases, they are released after less than an hour. He has asked for a briefing from the Home Office and Scotland Yard, the BBC reported.
British authorities have so far declined to discuss the reasons for questioning Miranda. The police said only that he was detained at 8:05 a.m. Sunday and released at 5 p.m. without being arrested.
Miranda spent the previous week in Berlin, where he stayed with Laura Poitras, a U.S. filmmaker who has also worked on the articles about National Security Agency surveillance, Greenwald wrote in a column Sunday. The Guardian newspaper paid for the trip.
Miranda was in transit in London on his way back to Brazil when he was stopped, Greenwald said. He said British authorities “completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop 'the terrorists,' and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.”
Greenwald was at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro on Monday to meet Miranda, when he returned home. Miranda said agents questioned him about his “whole life” and confiscated electronic devices including a computer, cellphone and video game.
Speaking in Portuguese, Greenwald told reporters he would not be silenced.
“I am going to publish things on England too,” Greenwald said, according to a translation provided by the Guardian. “I have many documents on England’s spy system.”
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