Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/408/4898
What we think
Terror laws threaten democratic rights
WITH OVER 200 'anti-terrorism' legal measures already in existence, Tony Blair was coming under widespread criticism from civil rights campaigners and others for planning more. But then came the London bomb blasts with the tragic death of 52 people, giving Blair the excuse he needed to quell opposition to more measures and rush them through.
Home secretary Charles Clarke has released a draft of a new Terrorism Bill, to be debated by parliament this autumn. It will bring in offences of "direct or indirect encouragement" of terrorism and "glorifying, exalting or celebrating" terror attacks, punishable by up to seven years and five years in prison respectively.
Which events internationally are classed as terror attacks, and whether someone is 'glorifying' or 'encouraging' them, will be decided by the subjective opinion of the government or top judges.
The only limit will be to exclude terrorist acts that occurred over 20 years ago, apart from exceptions that will be 'listed' by the government. So it could decide, for example, to exclude acts committed by the ANC in the 1950s under Nelson Mandela, but not, say, the plane hijackings of 1970 carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The criteria will be political expediency.
The Socialist Party totally condemned the London bombings. But we also oppose the government's planned anti-terrorism laws as they will do nothing to prevent terrorism and will be used to curtail democratic rights.
The government could, in the future, try to accuse any socialist or trade union organisation of 'indirectly encouraging' terrorism if those organisations have strongly opposed the government's foreign or domestic polices, or if they have sought to explain the motivation of terrorists.
Those that will be under threat for voicing their opinions range from left-wing parties to right-wing and religious organisations. The many political disagreements that exist between organisations across the political spectrum, including on the issue of terrorism internationally, cannot be settled by prosecutions and proscriptions, but must be decided through the right to express opinions freely and engage in democratic debate.
Clarke also intends to increase police powers for detention without trial from the present two weeks to three months. The period may be reduced during 'horse-trading' with the Tories and Liberal Democrats, but could still end up being a length that will amount to a repeat of the failed internment policy of 1971 aimed against the IRA. This was dropped in 1975 after 1,981 people had been detained because, far from countering terrorism, the policy had become a recruiter for the IRA.
Virtually nobody wants to see more terrorist acts, but the government's new Bill will not stop them. The police themselves admitted that the London bombers were not even on their 'radar', and if they had been, the government already has more than sufficient powers to arrest and prosecute if there is evidence of terrorism.
The new Bill will only lead to further curtailment of democratic rights, and to many innocent people suffering arrest, imprisonment and deportation.
In The Socialist 22 September 2005: