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Judge Orders Former Stanford Grad Student's Name Removed From US Watch List

Stanford allowed the student to complete her studies in her native Malaysia.

The judge has temporarily sealed the ruling, but issued a summary decision. (Photo: Patch Archive)
The judge has temporarily sealed the ruling, but issued a summary decision. (Photo: Patch Archive)

A Malaysian professor who claims she was mistakenly placed on the U.S. government's no-fly list won an order from a federal judge in San Francisco Tuesday requiring the government to remove her from a watch list.

Rahinah Ibrahim was a graduate student at Stanford University in 2005 when, according to her lawsuit, she was told at San Francisco International Airport that she was on a no-fly list, was denied boarding on her flight to a conference in Kuala Lumpur and was arrested and handcuffed by San Francisco police.

Ibrahim was released two hours later and allowed to fly the next day, but in the following months was denied a visa to return to the United States to complete her Ph.D.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who held a week-long non-jury trial on the lawsuit in December, filed a ruling in the case under seal, but also released a three-page public notice announcing he had reached a decision and giving a few details of it.

Alsup said in the notice that he believes the ruling itself should be made public, but said he is keeping it sealed until April 15 to give lawyers for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security a chance to appeal to a higher court to keep the document secret.

In the meantime, Alsup urged lawyers for Ibrahim and the government to agree on releasing parts of the decision.

Ibrahim, 48, who was allowed by Stanford to finish her Ph.D. in Malaysia, is dean of the faculty of design and architecture at University Putra Malaysia.

Her lawsuit alleges the denial of a visa to return to the United States has deprived her of professional opportunities.

The government has never publicly disclosed whether Ibrahim is on the no-fly list of suspected terrorists or any other watch list. Alsup's decision summary did not specifically mention the no-fly list, but said in a more general language that she had proved she was on a "terrorist watch list" at the time of the 2005 incident.

Alsup said Ibrahim had proved that there was an "error by the government" that affected her adversely. His public notice said he had ordered the government to remove her name from the watch list and certify that it had done so. He also ordered the government to tell her whether she is currently on the no-fly list and noted that government representatives have conceded in court that the "plaintiff is not a threat to our national security."

The judge ordered consular officials to explain why she has been denied a visa, but said he does not have the power to order them to grant one.

"We're very pleased," said Elizabeth Pipkin, a lawyer for Ibrahim. "Justice has finally been done for our client, an innocent woman who was wrongly ensnared in the government's flawed watch listing system," the attorney said.

Pipkin said the decision was the first of its kind in a non-fly case. "We hope the ruling will become public soon and the government will stop raising frivolous secrecy objections and let the public know what's going on," Pipkin added.

No reason has been given as to why Ibrahim was allegedly mistakenly placed on the watch list. But Ibrahim, who was not allowed to come to the United States for the trial last month, testified via videotape that during a 2005 interview, FBI agents asked her whether she had any connection to a terrorist group that had a name similar to the name of a professional group she belonged to.

Copyright © 2014 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.


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