NZ student mistaken for terrorist

A Sikh student having a coffee at an Auckland cafe has been mistaken for a terrorist, with police called out to investigate whether his headphones were a bomb.

Jaspreet Singh was sitting at Columbus cafe yesterday morning, outside Auckland Hospital, and a few metres away from the University of Auckland Medical School where he is studying to become a doctor.

Singh is 21 and wears a turban as part of his Sikh faith.

He was meeting his mentor and research supervisor, Professor Luke Larkin, to talk about a research project he was keen to get involved with.

Two police officers entered the cafe 20 minutes later and asked Mr Singh to step outside. His professor initially refused on his behalf and argued the officers were picking on him because of his race.

Singh said he was shocked but obliged and followed the police out.

"They took me outside and they explained that someone had called them and said I was doing something with wires in my laptop bag."

He said his first reaction was to laugh, and the police quickly realised he posed no danger.

"They were quite apologetic because that was quite ridiculous. They were just doing their job."

Police spokesperson Scott Leonard confirmed the callout was made yesterday morning.

"Someone saw a male with headphones out... and then put wires into what looked like a transistor radio in a backpack."

He said police went to the cafe and spoke to the parties involved, but decided there was nothing of concern.

The cafe's barista, Tove Carland, said she had been in the bathroom about 10 minutes earlier when she head a woman making a phone call, sounding very nervous, and describing a man in a turban sitting across from her.

When the police turned up, Carland realised the woman had been calling the police.

She said she believed, from what she heard, it was no more than racism.

"They had no reason to call. She just said 'oh, he has a turban'... So soon after the [Paris] terrorist attacks and everything, people are being crazy."

Singh said he could guess who had made the call because of the woman's reaction to how he looked and how he was dressed.

"I think, [based on] when I entered the cafe initially, I think I know who made the call but I'd rather not say who it is."

He said the incident was influenced by some racial bias, but had more to do with ignorance and fear.

"This isn't about holding someone accountable, but more so using this to raise awareness about these sorts of issues. The biases we hold in our society and how we can fight them."



Radio New Zealand International