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report from Network Against The Terrorism Act
19th Feb 2001
The Government has modernised anti-terrorism laws
Emergency powers have been made permanent despite there being no emergency A catch-all redefinition of terrorism has devalued the term and widened it extraordinarily
'I believe that we must have some confidence in the law enforcement agencies and the courts. If we look back at the past 25 years, we can see that the [anti-terrorism] powers have been used proportionately…' Jack Straw, Home Secretary
Imagine a Britain where what you eat, what you believe in, where your family originate from or the websites you visit could result in you being treated as a suspected terrorist.
Imagine a Britain where you could be detained up to seven days without the right to a fair hearing and with no effective rights in the police station. A Britain where anyone found near a demonstration could be arrested, fingerprinted and DNA sampled. A Britain where you could be treated as an outlaw and be searched on the street or have your home raided. All this if a police officer could demonstrate they had the slightest grounds to suspect you, even if they turned out to be wrong or mistaken.
It could be you
Since the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force on 19 February 2001, this can and will happen in Britain. The powers in previous anti-terrorism legislation, repeatedly condemned by UN bodies and judgments from the European Court of Human Rights, can to be applied to whole swathes of society thanks to the Act's reactionary redefinition of terrorism.
Operation "Pre-empt", a controversial proposal for the police to treat anyone of Irish origin or descent as a suspected terrorist, was only withdrawn last Christmas after pressure and charges of racism. However next time a biotech firm pulls out after fields are decontaminated of GMOs, or an animal testing laboratory threatens to close after protests.
Next time there are skirmishes in a far away land, fuel protesters bring the Government to its knees, or road building is successfully halted. Next time the police are under pressure to get results it could be you.
If you eat organic or vegetarian, if you have relatives in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Ireland etc., if you've looked at direct-action websites you could be treated as a potential terrorist suspect.
Act of Terror
Whether you agree with their views or even their methods is not important. Real terrorists injure innocent people in random attacks to create fear amongst the general population for a political purpose. New Labour's "new terrorists" are not terrorists so they should not be treated as such, let alone worse than serial killers. Fred West, for example, would have escaped the powers of the Terrorism Act as he was not politically motivated.
A definition of terrorism that lumps together bombing of a women and her baby on a train and civil disobedience is morally offensive. It also devalues the term and weakens its effect on the bomber. Put simply, 'terrorism' should not become just another derogatory word.
The state gets the power to persecute
What the Terrorism Act has done is define terrorism so widely that it is basically up to the Government and the police to decide who they want to treat as a terrorist. While those other countries, such as New Zealand, that have emergency powers allow them only to be used in an emergency, our Government wants them permanently available for use and abuse.
This means a chilling effect on free speech and other basic rights: journalists were frequently targeted under the previous terrorism laws, particularly when they tried to reveal misconduct by the state. The Act is so vast and vague that it will take years for its provisions to be clarified. For example, the meaning of the phrase "serious violence" first introduced into UK law in 1994 and now a key part of the Terrorism Act, has not even been tested in court yet.
Global problems need global solutions
That's not to say terrorism isn't a serious global problem. That's why we need global solutions such as the two new international conventions against terrorist bombings and financing, which should be the basis of our own law. They forced a hasty patch-up of the Act but made it look even more at odds with 21st century values and respect for human rights.
The Government has never explained why we need a definition of terrorism so extraordinarily wider than that in international law. What can we infer from their silence? Moving towards a police state
five facts about the Terrorism Act 2000
"The Government [should] repeal all provisions which are not in conformity with international treaties and standards, in particular emergency laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act which have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of opinion and expression." Abid Hussain, Special Rapporteur, UN Commission on Human Rights
The Network Against The Terrorism Act (NATTA) was set up to raise and co-ordinate effective opposition to the Terrorism Act 2000 as few have noticed it and even fewer have been noticed criticising it.
NATTA is non-hierarchical and open to anyone who shares our commitment to human rights and repeal of the Act and replacing it with a law implementing the two new international conventions that follows their definition of terrorism. The best way to find out more is to visit our website.
Network Against The Terrorism Act
tel: 0845 458 2966
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