New York: A group of eight Muslims has filed a federal lawsuit against the New York City Police Department demanding that it bring an end to its surveillance practice initiated in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks of spying on mosques and businesses managed by the community.
The lawsuit, filed today in federal court in New Jersey near here, is the first major legal challenge to NYPD`s spy operations.
The eight plaintiffs claim that NYPD`s surveillance, which has been carried on for years, of Muslim businesses and mosques throughout the Northeast denigrated the Islamic faith, violated the constitutional rights of countless Muslim- Americans and was discriminatory in nature.
Filed by advocacy group Muslim Advocates on behalf of the group of New Jersey residents, the suit calls for a "declaratory judgment" which labels specific surveillance of Muslims based on faith unconstitutional and seeks a court order prohibiting the NYPD from future surveillance of Muslims based on faith.
It also wants that records compiled by the NYPD during its spy operations be destroyed.
"The NYPD programme is founded upon a false and constitutionally impermissible premise: that Muslim religious identity is a legitimate criterion for selection of law-enforcement surveillance targets," the lawsuit said.
"What makes America great is that everyone is treated equally under the law. These plaintiffs are ordinary citizens going about their lives who law enforcement spied on simply because of their faith," Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, said in a statement.
"This lawsuit is perhaps the most important legal
challenge brought to date by American Muslims and could mark the beginning of a historical movement," Khera said.
The plaintiffs are New Jersey residents and include a US Army reservist, a Newark business owner who served in Vietnam and the imams of several mosques who were targeted by the NYPD Surveillance and Demographics unit.
"When the NYPD says all Muslims are suspects we have a clear case of government denigrating religion," Muslim Advocates legal director Glenn Katon said.
Media reports had detailed how the NYPD was carrying out surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, keeping an eye on details like where people from the community ate, prayed and met. Police had infiltrated several mosques and Muslim student groups to carry out their clandestine surveillance.
"This is a blanket victimization of a suspect class," said specialist Farhaj Hassan, a US Army reservist and one of the plaintiffs. "I think this is what the pilgrims crossed the ocean to avoid."
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne responded to the lawsuit saying that NYPD activities in New Jersey were "lawful, appropriate and in keeping with efforts there, in New York, and around the world to prevent terrorists from returning here to kill more New Yorkers."
Browne cited a recent review by the New Jersey Attorney General`s office that found New York investigators did nothing wrong when they crossed the Hudson River to gather information on Muslims.
The three-month probe, ordered by New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, concluded there was no evidence to show the NYPD?s activities in the state violated New Jersey’s civil or criminal laws.
Khera said with New York officials refusing to look into the NYPD’s abuses and the US Department of Justice also not taking any swift action, the lawsuit is the victims last resort to seek justice.