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Thursday, October 13, 2005 

Anti-terror bill: 7 years for daring to voice support for "armed" resistance.

Most of the attention on the latest anti-terrorism bill has focused on the 90 day detention for suspects, as well as the 'gloryifying' clause, which has now been more narrowly defined. However, hidden underneath the more eye-catching and draconian measures is one that inhibits free speech even more broadly than the gloryifying clause would have done.

As Seumas Milne writes,

In fact, under the terms of the bill, anyone who voices support for armed resistance to any state or occupation, however repressive or illegitimate, will be committing a criminal offence carrying a seven-year prison sentence - so long as members of the public might reasonably regard it as direct or indirect encouragement. Terrorism is not defined in the bill as, say, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, let alone an assault on civilian targets by states - but as any politically motivated violence against people, property or electronic systems anywhere in the world. This is not only an assault on freedom of speech and debate about the most contentious subject in global politics. It also makes a criminal offence out of a belief shared by almost every society, religion or philosophy throughout history: namely, that people have the right to take up arms against tyranny and foreign occupation. Clarke made clear on Tuesday that this was exactly his intention. He could not, he said, think of any situation in the world where "violence would be justified to bring about change".

In other words, it's possible you could be prosecuted for urging the people of Zimbabwe to rise up against Robert Mugabe by using violence against the violence of the young mobs of Zanu PF thugs. You could be imprisoned for supporting Palestinian attacks on IDF soldiers in the West Bank. Presumably if this law had been around in the 80s you would have been thrown in jail for expressing support for the Contras in Nicaragua, who were bank-rolled by the Reagan administration through sales of arms to Iran, let alone the support of muhjahedin fighters against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Except, of course, it wouldn't. Fighters and groups supported by the West will undoubtedly be exempt, as well as popular campaigns such as those against the military government in Burma. No, this has been drafted so that unpopular insurgencies, or ones which Britain does not like, cannot be supported. Israel has been apoplectic that Britain even held talks with Hamas before, even though the group is banned in the UK. This will no doubt go some way to appeasing them.

Back to the 3 months detention without charge, and Blair continues to become even more manic and seemingly deranged. His claim that the reasons behind the need for detention for 3 months are "compelling" is at odds with nearly everyone except the police and the most belligerent tabloids. If anything, the need for police to hold suspects for 3 months shows how incompetent and resource-deprived they are. Yes, decrypting computer hard drives, scanning CCTV and collecting other evidence takes time. However, it does not and should not take up to 3 months. That is a ridiculous timescale. At the very most, the evidence needed for a case should be able to be collated within a month. Those who would be arrested suspected of involvement in terrorism to start with are already likely to have been monitored by the police, Special Branch or MI5, meaning that they must already have something of a case against them. Then again, of 895 arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 in the last five years, 500 have been released without charge, and of the rest less than 30 have been charged with terrorist offences. 3 month detentions will rightly remind people of internment in Northern Ireland - ending in hunger strikes and deaths. Why could suspects not be released on bail, but monitored and/or made to report to the station every day? The Liberal Democrat proposal that suspects could be charged on some other misdemanour then remanded in custody while the other evidence is collected is also worth investigating.

Writing the above pains me. I signed a petition at the beginning of the year calling for no more new terror laws. While I still feel the same way, and that the terrorist threat has been vastly exaggerated, there is now no way to stop more anti-terrorist legislation being passed. After all, according to Blair, the "rules of the game are changing". It now comes down to opposing the measures which must not become law, and the above should be opposed vigorously. As it stands, it seems unlikely the bill will be stopped in the Commons, although it may run into trouble in the Lords. If this then comes before the courts, we can only hope that a sensible judge will do the right thing, and not be cowed by an ever more repellent tabloid press, and a government which is getting more craven and egregious by the day.

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