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Back Publications Briefings Emergency Legislation Violates Human Rights Standards, Update number 2

Emergency Legislation Violates Human Rights Standards, Update number 2

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IHRC has a number of further concerns regarding the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill currently being pushed through parliament in an unprecedented attempt to curtail civil liberties in the UK.

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Islamic Human Rights Commission
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Emergency Legislation Violates Human Rights Standards
Briefing Update number 2, 26th November 2001

IHRC has a number of further concerns regarding the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill currently being pushed through parliament in an unprecedented attempt to curtail civil liberties in the UK.

Amongst IHRC's concerns are issues surrounding clause 93 as they pertain in particular to the Muslim community and in general; the political nature of future prosecutions under the provisions relating to incitement to religious hatred and the government's response to initial concerns; and the clause 17 provision making hitherto confidential records including medical records accessible to police powers around the world.

Clause 93

This clause will make it a criminal offence for anyone refusing the remove a piece of clothing when requested by police. Police can now demand the removal of such items if they feel they are concealing identity. Initial criticism of this measure focused on the likely impact on anti-globalization protestors and animal rights activists. However IHRC notes that this is a measure that will impact deeply on the Muslim community and in particular on Muslim women.

IHRC has previously reported on institutionalized anti-Muslim hostility and discrimination, and notes that the issue of forced removal of Hijab is a deeply ingrained form of attack against Muslim women. In education, IHRC has repeatedly received reports from students and their families that young women and girls some as young as nine have had their head coverings forcibly removed by educationalists. [1]

Additionally IHRC has received a number of reports of staff at LEAs defending the refusal of some schools to allow students to wear Hijab on grounds of security i.e. they believe the Hijab could be used to hide a weapon. This form of demonsiation finds acute representation in the prison and immigration services with Muslim women reporting manhandling by male officers, forced removal of Hijab in front of male members of prison or immigration authority staff. [2] IHRC has received similar reports of this type of behaviour at police stations perpetrated by police officers.

In the wake of September 11, these types of attacks have increased, taking place often outside school premises or in open and accessible areas and where other people have failed to take any action against perpetrators or in aid of the victims. [3]

Given that there already existed a preoccupation with Muslim women's dress in circles of authority ranging from distrust to hatred, it seems reasonable to assume that Muslim women would find themselves facing similar treatment, this time through ill-conceived and ambiguously defined legislation. Clause 93 fails to address the problematique of making this type of request and expecting compliance from Muslim women.

IHRC further notes that although the remit of the Bill is purportedly terrorist activity, this clause is general, and the person of whom the request is being made need not be suspected of a terrorist offence. Refusal can result in a month's imprisonment. Possible scenarios of concern involve Muslim women refusing to co-operate due to the presence of male officers or observers, and being criminalized as a result.

Incitement to religious hatred

The arguments against these measures are well rehearsed both from secular and religious establishments. IHRC maintains that these measures are likely to have adverse effects in terms of implementation. The consequence of this measure may be that serious restraints are placed on freedom of speech in terms of philosophical debates, which Muslims are in favour of. Whilst a fine line exists between what constitutes philosophical debate and incitement, the Government must provide precise definitions and draw distinctions rather than place total restrictions on the fundamental right to freedom of speech.

IHRC notes that under incitement to racial hatred legislation, only 35 convictions have been secured since 1988. Extending current legislation to include incitement to religious hatred would not be effective in deterring and punishing perpetrators in the absence of further measures. For example, institutionalized discrimination in the police and criminal justice system needs to be addressed if the new measures are to be effective.

IHRC further notes with concern the perception amongst various minority communities that previous laws outlawing incitement to racial hatred were used primarily against minority communities rather than as a means of protecting them. Indeed the first prosecution was against a black activist Michael X, and it would appear that until this day there have been a disproportionate amount of prosecutions against members of ethnic minority communities. [4]

IHRC is further concerned by the Home Office's statements on the removal of the restriction that required racial hatred to be directed at a group in Britain. According to the Home Office this had previously 'enabled some groups to disguise their hatred by referring to nationalities rather than races or religions.' [5] In the case of racial hatred pejorative statements with regard to ethnic and national origin e.g. 'smelly Pakistani' have fallen within the remit of anti-hatred measures. The removal of this restriction could have grave implications on the reporting of human rights abuses by nations or governments of nations that have sufficient political leeway to influence the British government. Whilst the Home Office is keen to ensure that no comedians will be prosecuted for making fun of religions, it seems it has no concerns about the use of this legislation to prosecute e.g. campaigners against human rights abuses committed by the Israeli Defence Force, even though such abuses may themselves be racially or religiously motivated.

Clause 17

This clause 'makes it legal for police across the world to receive documents from public authorities whether they are relevant to a criminal investigation or not. The Bill lists documents covered by 53 different laws, the privacy of which was previously guaranteed. But they can now be read by police investigating any crime anywhere in the world.' [6]

Clearly this is an unacceptable infringement of rights to privacy. It will once more impact on Muslim asylum seekers who have sought refuge in the UK as a result of persecution for their political or religious beliefs.

Conclusion

IHRC has already expressed its concerns at the increasingly draconian nature of legislation in the UK. It is particularly alarmed at the curtailing of civil liberties in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and notes that not only are they incompatible with international standards and norms, they particularly impact on British Muslims and Muslims who have sought sanctuary or will try to do so in the UK. The potential for unlimited detention combined with other aspects discussed in the two IHRC and various other briefings make the targeting of Muslims appear to be acceptable. IHRC urges that all concerned do their utmost to ensure that this Bill is not made law in its current form, if at all. If as seems likely, this Bill will be on the statute books before Christmas, IHRC urges the government to ensure that proper and public monitoring of the implementation of the legislation is put in place, including inter alia the formation of implementation bodies that include suitably experienced members of faith communities to assist in ensuring that no particular groups is improperly targeted.

[1] 'Anti-Muslim Hostility & Discrimination in the UK, 2000' Islamic Human Rights Commission, February 2001
[2] 'Islamophobia Review' Islamic Human Rights Commission, forthcoming.
[3] 'UK Today: The Anti-Muslim Backlash in the Wake of September 11, 2001' Islamic Human Rights Commission, October 2001
[4] Javaid, Makbul, 'Incitement to Religious Hatred' November 2001
[5] Response from Home Office, 21 November 2001
[6] Paton Walsh, Nick 'Terror Bill Lets Police Scan Medical Records' The Observer, November 25, 2001

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