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Oppose the Counter-Terrorism Bill: Lobby of Parliament - 29 Nov

CAMPACC | 27.11.2007 10:16 | Repression | Terror War | London

National Campaign against ‘Anti-Terror’ Powers


Thursday 29 November 2-6 pm Westminster, London.

PUBLIC MEETING 6.30-8.30 pm in Committee Room 2A
Please allow 30 minutes for security clearance. Get to Committee Room 2A by 6.20 p.m. People to be seated by 6.30 p.m. for prompt start.

Hosted by Lord Rea

Speakers include Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, Gareth Peirce, Sarah Teather MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP; Aamer Anwar, Scottish Criminal Defence Lawyer, Mahan Abedin, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Asim Qureshi, Cageprisoners

The Counter-Terrorism Bill 2007 reinforces a trend beginning with the Terrorism Act 2000, whose broad definition of terrorism criminalised normal political activities, potentially on the basis of suspected ‘association’. This law was followed by three more in 2001, 2005, 2006; these multiplied extra police powers (e.g. arbitrary stop-and-search), punishment without trial and treatment of ‘suspects’ as guilty, thus bypassing due process. Together these laws have normalised detention without trial under various guises, such as control orders and immigration rules, whereby the accused never see the evidence against them.

A national campaign is bringing together civil liberties activists, migrant groups, Muslim groups, lawyers, journalists, academics, trade unions and environmental campaigners amongst others. The campaign opposes all current anti-terror laws as well as their extension. This broad approach will help to involve everyone affected by those powers, could deter their use, and will provide extra reasons to oppose their extension.

We invite you to join the lobby of Parliament and public meeting on 29th November, to write to your MP and encourage others to do so. Other activities of the campaign, which you could join or start, include:-

· Putting anti terror laws on the agenda of local organisations, such as anti-war groups, religious groups, civil society associations and trade unions.

· Organising local public meetings and building local coalitions.

· Holding high street stalls to raise awareness and gather signatures for petition.

· Giving out information outside community centres and places of worship.

· Sending letters to the mass media, local media plus articles in alternative media.

· Petitioning MPs to vote against any extension of ‘anti-terror’ powers, with delegations to the office of your constituency MP. (See model letter to MPs on our website.)

Groups which have joined the campaign

1990 Trust, Baluch Human Rights Group, Cageprisoners , Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, Centre for the Study of Terrorism, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Index on Censorship, Institute for Policy Research and Development, Islamic Human Rights Commission, Justice not Vengeance, J7; The July 7th Truth Campaign, Kurdish Federation UK, London Guantanamo Campaign, Muslim Parliament, Panjaab National History Society, Peace & Progress; Peace and Justice in East London; Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, South Asia Solidarity Group, Stop the War Coalition, Sheffield Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), Sheffield Guantanamo Campaign, Solidarity (Scotland’s Socialist Movement) Tamil Campaign for Truth and Justice, Tamil Centre for Human Rights.

Oppose yet more ‘anti-terror’ powers!

No to a permanent state of emergency!

The government has again proposed a sweeping extension of ‘counter-terrorism’ and ‘security’ measures. These measures include the power to detain ‘terror suspects’ without charge for up to 56 days (double the current 28-day limit), post-charge questioning, and more severe sentences for any ‘terrorist-related’ crime. Also proposed is a new criminal offence of seeking information which could be useful for terrorism, whether or not the seeker intends such a use. For mere suspicion of involvement in terrorism, anyone could face travel restrictions and be deprived of their passport.

Even worse, all these special powers relate to a broad definition of ‘terrorism’. Under the Terrorism Act 2000, terrorism includes any activity which simply poses a threat of damage to property in pursuit of a political cause. Any suspicion of a political motive can trigger and justify special powers. They can and have been used against peaceful protest which posed no threat to anyone – for example, people standing outside the arms fair in Docklands or residents opposing the loss of their homes for a third runway at Heathrow airport.

A recent prosecution illustrates the vague crime of ‘terrorist’ association. Four university students and a schoolboy from Bradford were jailed for possessing DVDs of radical Imams – officially labelled as material ‘for terrorist purposes’ (The Guardian, 27.07.07). The defendants were charged under the Terrorism Act 2000, which was supposedly aimed at people who hoard detonators and combustible chemicals. Thus a court now considers DVDs to be as dangerous as Semtex; this says much about the way in which security laws are being used politically.

To justify detention without trial, in 2001 the government claimed that we faced a national emergency, as a basis to claim exemption from the European Convention on Human Rights. When the Law Lords declared those powers illegal in 2004, the government soon got Parliament to authorise ‘control orders’, a form of house arrest which turns homes into prisons. In 2005 Parliament also authorised 28-day detention without charge, under the pretext that the police sometimes need the extra time to investigate terrorist threats. Yet the political logic is just the opposite: such powers encourage lengthy detention on the basis of scant evidence or disinformation, as in many recent cases. Of the thousands arrested under anti-terror laws, only a tiny number have been convicted for involvement with or plans for violent activities; meanwhile personal reputations are destroyed and families suffer.

All those ‘anti-terror’ powers amount to punishment without trial. They are well suited for harassing, punishing and criminalising political protest of all kinds. The authorities can readily create more ‘terror suspects’ and treat them as guilty, while promoting a politics of fear. Now ongoing terrorist threats are supposed to justify more severe powers than during the violent conflict in Northern Ireland.

The government’s new proposals extend the injustice of measures already in force. Longer pre-charge detention periods, along with post-charge questioning, will further encourage arbitrary arrests and put psychological pressure on prisoners. Information ‘which could be useful for terrorism’ can mean nearly anything and would generally be linked with politics to justify prosecutions, as well as to harass activists. Restrictions could be imposed on travellers to international demonstrations.

Special ‘anti-terror’ powers needed only for political purposes, e.g. to stigmatise and persecute individuals as ‘terror suspects’. Their aims are clearly demonstrated by special powers regarding mere suspicion or association with a vaguely defined ‘terrorism’. The use of such powers is inherently unjust – and unnecessary to protect the public from violent threats. The ordinary criminal law would be adequate for that purpose.

Using terrorist threats as a pretext, the government tries to establish a permanent state of emergency. This trend towards a police state can be stopped only by claiming the rights that would be taken away from us. We need to deter the use of ‘anti-terror’ powers and to dissuade Parliament from voting for their extension.


1) Detention without charge would be extended from 28 days to 56 days or possibly even 90 days.

For anyone deemed a ‘terror suspect’, the current limit of 28 days already represents a drastic extension from that before the Terrorism Act 2000. There are no credible grounds for why such a long time would be necessary. It is equivalent to 8 weeks of custodial sentence. The 28-day detention period has been used as a substitute for a proper criminal investigation, instead intimidating and stigmatising people as ‘terror suspects’. Extending pre-charge detention would be equivalent to 4 months of custodial sentence having serious impact on an individuals job prospects and family life. The majority of the people arrested under anti-terror laws are innocent and they need to be protected. Such a long detention amounts to internment in all but name, thus violating the principle of habeas corpus. It ignores the principle that citizens must be considered innocent until proven guilty. Police naturally want as much time as possible to lean on a suspect before honouring this principle. They may also lobby government to give them such powers, but in a free society, the police enforce the law, they don't make it.

2) Post-charge questioning of ‘terror suspects’

Likewise such powers can be used to intimidate detainees, as a substitute for an adequate basis for the criminal charge in the first place. There needs to appropriate judicial oversight to ensure that this is supervised rigorously to prevent intimidation and pro-longed interrogation.

3) A new criminal offence of seeking ‘information which could be useful for terrorism’.

This offence would apply regardless of whether or not the seeker intends a ‘terrorist’ use – again terrorism being defined in such a broad way as to encompass many non-violent activities and to criminalise the peace movement, some strikers, or anyone planning boycotts, pickets, blockades etc. Information ‘which could be useful for terrorism’ can mean nearly anything, e.g. having maps or researching companies, and would be used for speculative charges to harass or criminalise political activists.

4) Travel restrictions for ‘suspects’

For mere suspicion of involvement in terrorism, anyone could face travel restrictions and be deprived of their passport. Protesters could be prevented from traveling to international demonstrations. Like control orders, this would be punishment without trial.

5) Collective punishment of families of convicted terrorists

Under control orders, the imposing of curfews, electronic tagging, restrictions on the use of telephones (and mobile phones and the Internet) and restrictions on visits by relatives and friends, even of children, have turned homes into prisons for the family as a whole. The proposal to make it easier for the court to order the forfeiture of complex assets, such as a house and a flat of a convicted terrorist would punish the family. Given the recent convictions for possessing DVDs however radical under the provisions of the ‘glorification of terrorism’, this move is extremely serious.

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