The passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill into law today is a disturbing development that further erodes the already battered edifice of civil liberties in the UK.
The new legislation follows a well-established pattern of using terrorist attacks as a pretext to introduce more powers for the executive that in many cases are discriminatory, counter productive and wholly unnecessary.
The new Act has NOT undergone extensive public scrutiny as per government claims and in fact the normal public consultation has been used as a cover for driving through the new laws almost entirely as they were originally presented to Parliament. IHRC believes that the government is now cynically using anti-terrorism law consultations to legitimise what is effectively a pre-decided outcome. It is for this reason that along with other civil liberties campaign groups, IHRC decided last month not to engage in any further public consultations on terrorism laws.
Amongst the Act’s most disconcerting elements is introduction of a legal duty on GP’s, teachers and other professionals to report those they suspect of being involved in terrorism. The new law effectively incorporates them into the security apparatus and will mean that individuals will be monitored, on behalf of the state, starting as early as nursery age. Needless to say IHRC is deeply concerned about the potential breakdown of trust and confidence that this may engender if individuals start to see professionals as government spies.
The new laws also include a category of ‘thought crime’ in the introduction of local panels to prepare a plan for those at risk of so-called radicalisation. Leaving aside the obvious criticisms that the identified individuals will have no way of challenging the panel’s decisions, it is staggering to think that the government believes it has the right to determine what others are allowed to think and believe, and impose “de-radicalisation” plans on those who disagree with the government’s notions of acceptable beliefs.
The government will also now have the power to seize passports of those it suspects are travelling for terrorist purposes. Again this has huge implications for innocent travellers who are now liable to be detained at ports if they ‘look like a terrorist’ or are travelling to destinations such as Turkey and Lebanon that are deemed to be staging posts for terrorism. The government’s own data shows that existing Schedule 7 stop and search powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 have relied on profiling and led to a disproportionately high number of non-whites and Muslims being detained. Since 2001 some 70% of all arrests under anti-terrorism legislation have been of non-whites.
We are also worried about the introduction of temporary exclusion orders that will prevent people who are deemed to pose a risk to the UK’s security from entering. Exclusion orders taken on the basis of mere suspicion could lead to individuals being arrested in foreign countries and treated as terrorism suspects. The law smacks of an abdication by government of its responsibilities and an abandonment of judicial oversight and safeguards, with the consequence that it will place British citizens at risk abroad.
IHRC views the new legislation as yet another attempt by the government to erode our civil liberties which further marginalises the Muslim community. Each time there is a criminal act committed by a Muslim the moment is cynically exploited by politicians to widen the powers of the security services and introduce new laws that are disproportionately used against Muslims. This targeting and scapegoating of Muslims demonises them and creates a climate of hostility towards them and encourages acts of discrimination, abuse and violence.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “We urge the government to stop this headlong descent into a society that more resembles Orwell’s 1984 than a mature democracy. Anti-terror legislation should be about protecting everyone in society, not singling out a certain group for further mistreatment and discrimination. It is patently clear that recent anti-terrorism legislation is more concerned with protecting the state from dissent than protecting the public from terrorism.”
Notes to editors
IHRC’s briefing on the Bill submitted to Parliament in January can be found here:
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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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Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222