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Indian students 'spied upon' in UK

Shyam Bhatia in London | March 22, 2004 15:27 IST

India is among the "red flag" countries whose students are routinely spied upon by the UK's police and intelligence services.

The other countries whose students are carefully watched are Pakistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Israel
and North Korea.

The monitoring of Indian students seemingly contradicts attempts by other arms of the British government to strengthen links with a Commonwealth partner and one of the fastest growing economies of the 21st century.

But, according to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, fears of terrorist attacks outweigh all other considerations in the minds of security chiefs in London.

Thus, on the one hand, the Foreign Office in London courts Indian students by launching such popular schemes as the Chevening scholarships, which are attracting record numbers of students to British institutes of higher education. On the other hand according to newspaper reports, certain universities have been asked to secretly monitor and assess information on Indians and some other foreign students enrolled on their courses.

Hence details of  telephone numbers, e-mail and home addresses are being passed on by university staff to the police, intelligence services and the Foreign Office.

Spying on foreign students first started a decade ago following evidence that some graduate students from Arab countries had perfected their expertise in developing weapons of mass destruction after studying at British universities.

Discreet checks were subsequently introduced at some university departments, such as nuclear physics and biological sciences. But this surveillance has now been extended to all students from 'red flag' countries, regardless of the subjects they are studying.

Head of the House of Commons, Science and Technology, Ian Gibson is quoted by the British media as confirming reports of foreign students being spied upon.

"I think there will be a number of universities doing this," Gibson is reported as saying. "It goes absolutely against the principle of freedom in academia and allowing people to associate with whom they like or think what they like."

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