UK

David Miranda Terror Arrest: Four Lions' Star Adeel Akhtar Reveals His Own Detention Nightmare

20/08/2013 13:20 BST

Four Lions star Adeel Akhtar has told how the detention of a Guardian journalist's partner for nine hours in the UK airport brought back disturbing memories for him - and convinced him he needed to lobby to change the law.

David Miranda, partner of reporter Glenn Greenwald claimed he was questioned about his "entire life" by six agents who took his "computer, video game, mobile phone, my memory card - everything", while being held for nine hours under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Akhtar, 32, who played Muslim extremist Faisal in the Chris Morris comedy, told HuffPost UK about the day he was held for nine hours himself, and quizzed on his movement and beliefs by US intelligence officials.

adeel akhtar

Four Lions star Adeel Akhtar

The suspicion of authorities was aroused when Akhtar took a plane from London to New York in 2002, to accompany his girlfriend to a drama school audition.

First they were questioned by security at Heathrow, but allowed to board the plane. "We found out later that authorities at Heathrow contacted the Navy and the Ministry of Defence and told them there was a potential threat on board," Akhtar said.

"When we got to JFK, the plane was taxied to the extreme end of the runway, as far away as possible," he continued. Then FBI officers came on board, and said they were going to handcuff me, for their own protection, though I wasn't arrested. They dropped me off at a building in the airport complex and questioned me for nine hours.

"I was 21, I was abroad alone, excited about the audition and it was just so debilitating. I just wanted to give them what they wanted and get out.

"But everything I said seemed to be incriminating me more. I couldn't remember the exact dates of a trip to Kenya, I got confused with my answers, I was obviously in shock, looking back on it.

"I stared blankly at them and they looked at me like I was the worst person in the world. In that situation, they are saying stuff about you, and there's such disassociation. You don't recognise what you describe."

More than 35,000 people have now backed a Change.org petition started by Akhtar calling for the Government to look urgently at the use of the terrorism laws used to detain Miranda, whose partner Greenwald was responsible for revealing mass surveillance programmes undertaken by the US and UK, via leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police to detain anyone at the UK’s borders without any requirement to show probable cause and hold them for up to nine hours, without seeking further justification.

"The numbers of people detained are staggering, 70,000 people," Akhtar said. "It's worrying. If I was a different type of 21-year-old, what impression would that experience have left me with? You might react to say 'I have no allegiance to this country which has hung me out to dry'.

"I want to question whether this law is the best way to tackle this issue. We have to have protection from terrorism, but this law is not doing its job, it's inefficient. And it is being done in our name, are we comfortable with that? Are we adding to the global hysteria?"

The Home Office has defended the decision to detain Miranda under terrorism laws.

A spokesman said: "The Government and the police have a duty to protect the public and our national security.

"If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that.

"Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning.

"This is an ongoing police inquiry so we will not comment on the specifics."

David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has asked for an official briefing on Miranda's arrest, which he described as an "unusual case".