A Muslim woman in the US has registered a complaint over years of lengthy airport security checks. Zainab Merchant has also alleged that during one of the checks, she was forced to undress partially while on her menstrual cycle.
Merchant is a Harvard University graduate and founder of current affairs website, Zainab Rights. This week, the woman filed a complaint through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over what the organization called “intrusive searches, questioning and detention”.
Merchant is a frequent traveller as she keeps flying for her speaking engagements. Since the last two years, she has been getting pulled aside for screenings at airports. But, a recent ordeal has compelled her to speak up and take a stand.
Recently, Merchant was travelling from Boston to Washington DC. She was already expecting the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to pull her aside for a screening. But what she didn’t expect was a demand for a “deeper look”. A TSA officer publicly patted the Muslim woman down. Zainab resisted initially. She also said she was on her period and was wearing a pad. However, the officers did not pay heed and took her for an additional screening.
Merchant insisted that any additional screening should be done in public. She feared that if she went into a private room without any other witnesses, the situation would worsen.
The officers told her that if she did not comply, state troopers — who were on standby — would intervene.
Talking to Huffingpost, she said that she was pressured into a private screening and also forbidden to call her lawyer. She was taken to a private room where TSA officers demanded that she pull down her pants and underwear. She was horrified and alone, and had no choice but to reveal her bloodied menstrual pad
Zainab then asked for the officers’ names and badge numbers to report the disgusting experience. But the TSA officers covered their badges with their hands and walked away.
The complaint is filed against the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It demands an explanation over why Merchant is repeatedly the subject of lengthy searches. The ACLU believes that Merchant is on a federal watch list.
The ACLU also describes several searches that Merchant has been through since September 2016. It includes some which involved travel to or from Canada.
It says that Merchant has to wait for airport security to call Washington D.C. officials to authorize her travel. This often consumes several hours. Also, she usually doesn’t have issues entering Canada, but has missed return flights because of detentions.
In March 2017, while returning to the US from Toronto, the US customs officers allegedly opened Merchant’s bags and inspected its contents, including undergarments. The ACLU says they also asked her several questions, which included, “Do you support ISIS?”
“Every time I had to go through extra screening. It was the same exact thing every time. By the third time it happened, I realized this is not random. There is definitely a pattern to this, and I’m on some kind of list that is making me go through this again and again.”
The ACLU is a US-based rights organisation. As per ACLU, Zainab has been put under a government watchlist. Thus, it wants to help her and resolve the case.
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Megha Thadani is an Intern with Shethepeople.tv