18th February 2001
Terrorism Act Comes Into Force
Muslim Community Likely to be Victimised
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), the National Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty), among others, have strongly criticised the provisions of the new law due to its draconian restrictions on basic rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and so on.
“The Terrorism Act is the worst thing for civil rights that modern Britain has ever seen,” said Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). “This law sets Britain alongside some of the worst dictatorships around the world.”
The Act, which purports to be particularly related to quelling the conflict in Northern Ireland, has come about just when the mainland terrorism threat from the region has reduced while unprecedented moves toward peace have been made. “During the 1980s when the threat of terrorism from Northern Ireland was looming over Britain, there was no talk of instituting new legal powers to prevent terrorism”, noted Massoud Shadjareh. “Yet now, when the threat has reduced, we have the British Government pushing for virtually totalitarian police powers. It just doesn’t square.”
The Terrorism Act is designed to give the Government powers to crack down on “extremist groups” that allegedly use Britain as a safe haven for raising funds, recruiting and training members for operations abroad. The Act will lend police and the Home Secretary far wider scope to clamp down on groups operating in Britain alleged to be supporting terrorism abroad.
“Previous cases show clearly that Muslims are to liable be the key targets of the crack down”, said Shadjareh. As the National Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty) reports, under the Terrorism Act people who are merely “suspected of ‘terrorist’ offences would therefore have fewer rights than other criminals.” Suspects who are allegedly “motivated by political or religious factors when committing a crime will have fewer rights than a person who assaults another for revenge or greed.”
The definition of terrorism is so widely drawn, points out Liberty, that the Act “will mean that if you intend to destroy GM products for reasons of conscience you would have less rights than a person who was involved in the deliberate assault and robbery of a vulnerable person.” The Act will also “potentially be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights” by allowing suspects to be assumed guilty, so that “they would have to prove [they are] innocent.”
Liberty points out the Act will even “prevent people from exercising their right to free speech”, by making it “an offense to support by words alone an armed struggle in a country outside the UK. Those who support struggles from human rights and democracy in other countries may find themselves under investigation by the police.”
Shadjareh commented, “IHRC can confirm several cases where this has, indeed, been the case. That Muslims who oppose the repression of basic rights in their home countries are being labelled terrorists by those regimes – with the agreement of the British Government – already illustrates how the Terrorism Act is likely to be implemented. The fact that Islamophobia is so ripe in the United Kingdom, as numerous reports have shown, is only going to exacerbate this problem.”
For more information on the above, please contact the IHRC Press Office on (+44) 20 8902 0888, (+44) 958 522 196, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A more in-depth IHRC briefing on the Terrorism Act (The Killing in Kashmir and the Terrorism Act 2000, 29th December 2000) is also available on IHRC’s website at www.ihrc.org.