New counter-terrorism laws due to come into force next year stand to disproportionately target Muslim travellers.
The exclusion orders, announced by PM David Cameron as part of the government’s Counter Terrorism Bill, would bar suspected fighters from returning to the UK unless they agreed to be placed under strict controls.
The coalition government also wants to give the police and some border officers new powers to seize passports of anyone at the border who they have reasonable suspicion is travelling to engage in terrorist-related activity. Passports could be seized for up to 30 days.
IHRC believes that the plans to put suspects on a no-fly list and cancel their passports would amount to rendering them stateless. Along with other human rights organisations we have strongly opposed the extensive and unprecedented use of denaturalisation by the current UK government to punish citizens whose presence in the UK it deems undesirable. Since assuming office in 2010 the government has revoked the citizenship of no less than 48 people.
IHRC has called for the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness be tightened up so that deprivation of citizenship is made illegal under the Treaty, and that no derogations from this duty be allowed.
The requirement that suspects would have to “agree” to being prosecuted in order to avoid being denaturalised would be a disturbing development in that it would amount to the use of citizenship by the state as a bargaining tool by which to obtain confessions.
We are also concerned about the apparent lowering of the burden of proof under the new laws. Current legislation requires that the government demonstrate a firm belief that an individual is involved in terrorism before placing him under strict controls. Under the new legislation the authorities would only need to suspect that somebody has been engaged in terrorism.
Furthermore, given that other terrorism legislation has been used as an instrument of control and repression against Muslims – for example the Schedule 7 powers of the Terrorism Act 2001 have resulted in Muslims being stopped for questioning at ports and airports and being asked to spy on their communities – we fear that the new laws could similarly be misused to keep innocent people, particularly political activists who oppose government policies, out of the country. Earlier this year the government arrested the high-profile Muslim rights campaigner and ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg on suspicion of terrorism and detained him for seven months before releasing him. We have little doubt that lowering the proof threshold would result in more abuses such as this.
The new laws are believed to be framed in part to deal with UK fighters flocking to fight in the conflict in Syria. But the British government’s own stand on that conflict continues to send mixed messages. Britain already provides ‘non-lethal aid’ such as logistical and transport equipment to Syrian rebel groups it considers moderate but British Muslims seeking to do the same would run the risk of being apprehended.
IHRC is also concerned that any new laws will be disproportionately applied to Muslims and ignore non-Muslim Britons fighting abroad such as British Jews who serve in the Israeli military, often committing war crimes against Palestinians, and then return to the UK to lead normal lives.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “The helter skelter descent into a police state governed by political will framed as law continues unabated under this administration. The new proposals further push Muslims out of the protection of the legal safeguards that supposedly apply equally to all.”
Notes to editors:
A recent report by IHRC on the subject of denaturalisation is available to read online at http://ihrc.org.uk/publications/reports/11230-stripping-of-nationality-as-a-weapon-of-political-suppression-the-cases-of-bahrain-united-kingdom-united-arab-emirates-and-kuwait
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IHRC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Islamic Human Rights Commission
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