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(London) – The shocking detention of David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, a journalist at the Guardian, at London’s Heathrow airport on August 18, 2013, appears aimed at punishing or intimidating journalists, Human Rights Watch said today.

The United Kingdom government should immediately clarify why it detained Miranda for nine hours – and also confiscated his electronic equipment – and on whose orders.

“It’s incredible that Miranda was considered to be a terrorist suspect,” said David Mepham, UK director at Human Rights Watch. “On the contrary, his detention looks intended to intimidate Greenwald and other journalists who report on surveillance abuses.”

Greenwald is the journalist who wrote articles for The Guardian and elsewhere about the US surveillance programs, based on information from Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor.

UK security officials held Miranda at the airport for nine hours – the maximum time allowed under the UK Terrorism Act of 2000. The law allows such immigration stops for the purpose of preventing terrorism, even in the absence of reasonable suspicion.

Human Rights Watch has criticized UK terrorism laws for being overly broad. A similar power under the Terrorism Act of 2000, allowing police to carry out terrorism stops on British streets without suspicion, was repealed by the UK government following criticism by the European Court of Human Rights.

Greenwald and the Guardian reported that officials at Heathrow confiscated Miranda’s electronic equipment, including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs, and games consoles. This equipment, and the data on it, should be immediately returned, Human Rights Watch said.

“The confiscation of Miranda’s equipment seems a flagrant misuse of the UK Terrorism Act to snoop on the legitimate work of a journalist,” Mepham said.

Greenwald said officials questioned Miranda about Greenwald’s extensive reporting on surveillance by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). He said Miranda was in transit and traveling to his home in Brazil after a week in Berlin, where he had stayed with Greenwald’s journalistic partner on the NSA story, Laura Poitras. The Guardian newspaper said it paid for Miranda’s trip.

“UK lawmakers should urgently demand answers from the government,” Mepham said. “Who authorized this detention and was it at the request of the United States? Parliament should also review this power to determine whether it is inherently abusive of rights.”

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