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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
UK law 'aiding' religious hate crimes
A woman wearing the hijab
One young woman was targeted by a mob 'because of her veil'
British law is failing to protect people from religious hate crimes, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality has said.

Trevor Phillips said a "feeble response" by Parliament to an "increasingly common" problem made it easier for people to get away with targeting people on the basis of their religion.

"One of the ways people can get away with it is that they know the power of the law doesn't exist in quite the same way as it does for racial violence," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Phillips's comments followed the story of a 25-year-old Iraqi woman who has lived in England for nine years and is studying computer science.

'Lynch mob'

She said she would feel safer in Baghdad than she did at the moment in Portsmouth, where she has been subjected to months of abuse because she is a Muslim.

A one point a crowd of more than 30 people, described as a "lynch mob" by local police officer Paul Oliver, gathered outside her home in the city's Buckland Estate chanting abuse and throwing eggs.

They say, 'You people who wear scarves, you are bombers and have things in your bag to destroy the place'
Young Muslim in Portsmouth

"They pick on me every time I go outside," said the woman, who is too fearful to be named.

"They say, 'You people who wear scarves and are Muslim, you are bombers and have things in your bag to destroy the place'."

She said she was going to leave the UK because she did not feel safe and would rather live in war torn Iraq.

"All who see me there with a scarf will treat me with respect and that's all that I need," she said.

Mr Phillips said her story was part of a growing picture of religious attacks in Britain.

Unreported crimes

He listed the recent desecration of the Central Birmingham Mosque and Iranians being stabbed in Newcastle.

He said there were probably countless unreported crimes because "the law doesn't provide for them".

"Whereas someone who is racially abused would be able to come to the Commission for Racial Equality and ask for help and support, someone who is abused and subject to violence because of their religion cannot because the law doesn't provide for them," he said.

He said Parliament had failed to address the problem despite having opportunities like David Blunkett's rejected attempts in 2001 to introduce a law against incitement to religious hatred.

This week the House of Lords said a law on religious discrimination would cause controversy and therefore should be avoided, he said.

"Our law and our politics have created a kind of climate in which this kind of violence, discrimination and attacks on Muslims because they are Muslims, has somehow become acceptable," he said.

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