NEW YORK: Muslim-Americans in New Jersey said they filed a lawsuit on Wednesday demanding the New York Police Department stop its surveillance of mosques, businesses, college campuses and other gathering spots as part of its anti-terrorism campaign.
The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in US District Court in Newark, New Jersey, on behalf of several Muslim organisations, private businesses and individuals, said Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights group.
It asks the court to prohibit further monitoring of the Muslim community in New Jersey by the NYPD and to eliminate any record created by past spying by police.
A copy of the lawsuit – the first filed against the police department over its controversial surveillance – was provided by the plaintiffs’ lawyers. A stamped copy of the complaint was not immediately available.
While the monitoring has outraged the Muslim community, it has been largely supported by New York City voters, who overwhelmingly say the NYPD has been effective in combating terrorism, according to recent polls.
Asked to comment on the lawsuit, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne pointed to a report by New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which found after a three-month probe of the surveillance program that the NYPD did nothing wrong.
“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 said in an email, referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In the lawsuit, Muslim-Americans said they decided to go to court “to affirm the principle that individuals may not be singled out for intrusive investigation and pervasive surveillance simply because they profess a certain faith.”
The blanket surveillance by the NYPD “casts guilt on all people of that faith by suggesting that Muslims pose a special threat to public safety” and, as a result, Muslims who live in New Jersey suffer “significant stigma,” the lawsuit said.
The suit was filed on behalf of several Muslim organisations, private businesses and individuals. Among them is Syed Farhaj Hassan, 35, of New Jersey, a decorated Army soldier who served 14 months in Iraq, in a military intelligence unit.
As an observant Muslim, Hassan worships at four different mosques in New Jersey, the lawsuit said.
After learning those mosques were under NYPD surveillance, he has lessened his attendance at worship services in order to distance himself out of fear that an association with the mosques would, in the short term, damage his security clearance and, in the long term, his career prospects, the lawsuit said.
One of the businesses named in the lawsuit is Unity Beef Sausage Company, a halal meat supplier, meaning it observes Islamic dietary laws.
Since the Newark business has come under surveillance, customers have been staying away, telling the owner they feel uncomfortable in light of the spying, the lawsuit said.
The owner, too, is jittery and concerned that anyone who walks in or watches from across the street might by an NYPD spy, the lawsuit said.