While searching a Muslim woman at an airport, police officers forced her to remove her hijab so they could identify her. However, she was soon paid damages after claiming the officers “violated” her.
When a 25-year-old Muslim woman, identified as “Asiyah,” was traveling through Heathrow Airport in the UK to visit family in Bahrain, she was informed by police officers that they would have to confirm her identity and search her before she could pass through security. Unfortunately, their efforts led to a major lawsuit and, subsequently, a substantial payout.
In the UK, airport security officers are allowed to stop and search suspicious individuals as part of a counter-terrorism policy known as Schedule 7. However, this measure has caused outrage, especially among the Muslim community, which has labeled the act “Islamophobic” and racist.
Asiyah filed a lawsuit claiming that male Metropolitan Police Officers told her that she would have to remove her hijab so that they can properly identify her, according to The Guardian. She apparently told the officers that she was “uncomfortable” with the order but was told that she wasn’t identifiable while wearing her headscarf. She alleges that an officer then told her, “We can take photographs that we need by force.”
In the transcript, officers tell Asiyah, “You might end up being arrested because you wouldn’t let us take a photograph of your hair. 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.”
Asiyah claims that she was coerced into taking off her hijab and allowing the officers to photograph her face and head before she was eventually released. She later likened the experience to a non-Muslim woman being forced to take off her shirt and expose her bare breasts to male strangers.
Asiyah said, “For any woman who does not wear hijab, it would be the equivalent of two men telling a woman to remove her top so they can take pictures of her. The fact they were men insisting I did this made it even worse and embarrassing for me. It is part of the purpose of the hijab to preserve yourself from the gaze of men.”
Asiyah gave a witness statement claiming that she feared police brutality if she refused to comply. As such, she says she felt “bullied and pressurized” and that her rights were violated via discriminatory measures.
Asiyah said, “An image came into my head of me on the floor, with female officers surrounding me, trying to put handcuffs on me and pulling my hijab off my head and a lot of screaming. The final blow was asking me to remove my hijab. By that point, I had been interrogated for over an hour. I felt sick, like I was going to pass out. They threatened me with arrest if I didn’t comply and remove my hijab, so they could take pictures. I felt so dehumanised. This has had a very complex impact on my mental health and life.”
Asiyah says that she has suffered trauma from the incident and continues to struggle with the daily mental health effects of the incident. She claimed to feel stripped of her dignity.
Asiyah said, “I keep thinking how men might be looking at me without my hijab, and I wonder how many times a day they are being viewed and how many different men are viewing them. For me, it feels the same as if the police had taken a photo of me naked that was then being looked at by male police officers or maybe male members of the security services. I felt my dignity had been taken away and I had been stripped.”
Following the judicial review, the Met agreed to pay Asiyah over $17,000 in damages in an out-of-court settlement. The move allowed the department to avoid being guilty of human rights and religious rights violations.
Despite her compensation, Asiyah is afraid of the officers and others who view her unveiled photos looking at her hair in a sexualized way. Both she and her attorney, Anne McMurdie, desperately want the photos out of circulation.
McMurdie said, “There is nothing to prevent them sharing [the image] with others like the security services. There is nothing in the law to regulate how long it is kept for, who can view it, who it is shared with. One of the evils with this is that the abuse continues.”
Although Asiyah agreed to take the settlement, she claims that she still suffers trauma from the incident. She worries that her photos will continue to be viewed by men in a sexual way.
The incident poses a problem for law enforcement using the Schedule 7 act to police suspicious individuals in high-risk areas in the UK. Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before even the most basic security measures are seen as discriminatory.