Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Terrorism Bill

Right, so the Guardian has a draft of the Bill up, I will briefly peruse through some of its aspects, and consider the implications:
Encouragement of terrorism
(1) A person commits an offence if he—
(a) publishes a statement or causes another to publish a statement on his
behalf; and
(b) at the time he does so, knows or believes, or has reasonable grounds for believing, that members of the public to whom the statement is or is to be published are likely to understand it as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences.
(3) It is irrelevant for the purposes of subsection (1)—
(a) whether the statement is likely to be understood as an encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of one or more particular acts of terrorism or Convention offences, of acts of terrorism or Convention offences of a particular description or of acts of terrorism or Convention offences generally; and
(b) whether any person is in fact encouraged or induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate any such act or offence.
Note however:
(4) In proceedings against a person for an offence under this section it is a defence
for him to show—
(a) that he published the statement in respect of which he is charged, or caused it to be published, in the course of providing a service electronically;
(b) that, in publishing it or causing it to be published, he acted on behalf of another, or did no more than make available a facility giving access to the statement;
(c) that the statement neither expressed his views nor had his endorsement; and
(d) that it was clear, in all the circumstances, that it did not.
So, if you are providing a 'service' electronically, or don't really think it, it's not an offence.

Onto the next salient offence:
(1) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he publishes a statement or causes another to publish a statement on his
(b) the statement glorifies, exalts or celebrates the commission, preparation or instigation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of acts of terrorism; and
(c) the circumstances and manner of the statement’s publication (taken together with its contents) are such that it would be reasonable for members of the public to whom it is published to assume that the statement expresses the views of that person or has his endorsement.
(2) It is irrelevant for the purposes of subsection (1) whether what is glorified, exalted or celebrated is the commission, preparation or instigation of one or more particular acts of terrorism, of acts of terrorism of a particular description or of acts of terrorism generally.
(3) A person is guilty of an offence under this section in respect of a statement glorifying, exalting or celebrating anything occurring more than 20 years before the publication of the statement only if the statement relates, whether directly or indirectly, to conduct or events specified for the purposes of this section by order made by the Secretary of State.
It seems to me that the latter is the more worrying of the offences, but I'll deal with the former first.

Right, to begin with this offence is very very vague, which could actually be a good thing. The first point to make is that it's quite disturbing that you need only 'reasonable ground to believe' that what you publish will directly or indirectly encourage terrorism. This means that you might not intend for what you are publishing to encourage terrorism, but you might realise it could. And if you realise it could, you're in trouble.

The next worriying part is this 'directly' or 'indirectly' business, this, combined with the above, seems to potentially criminalise a hell of a lot. Bearing in mind that the definition of terrorism what I posted previously the Iraqi resistance is a terrorist organisation. If the SWP in its Socialist Worker were to pubish an article saying 'the war is illegal' and therefore 'resistance is legitimate' surely this is an 'indirect' encourage, hell, simply saying the war is illegal or immoral seems to open us up to 'indirectly' encouraging 'terrorism'. Also the fact that no one need actually be incited is a worrying proposition as, in essence, it is not action that is being criminalised but mere publication.

The defences seem a little woolly, frankly I have no idea what 'in the course of providing a service electronically' means, what is a 'service'? Presumably this is there to cover news on the TV and internet etc. where publishing news about coalition abuses in Iraq might be seen as 'indirect' encouragement. But this surely wouldn't protect newspapers (though they might have the defence of not endorsing such views). And none of this protects the anti-war movement.

The glorification of terrorism offence is even more worrying. What especially concerns me here is that any support fo violent resistance now seems dead in the water. So for instance (not effected I know but still relevant) Monthly Review has an article about the Nepalese Maoists, stating:
The revolutionary forces in Nepal led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) have been engaged in a country-wide people’s war (“jana youdha”) against the royal government. Much of the country has been liberated.
Well, the Maoists certainly fit the bill as far as defintions of terrorism go in the Act. And liberated! LIBERATED!? Surely that is glorification or celebration not to mention the fact that the article is all about a successful attack on a government target. This sort of publication would therefore be criminalised under the Bill and there is no defence to this.

I don't want to phrase this in terms of abstract 'rights' discourse, but rather by its concrete effects today. Such a law can only serve to criminalise and delegitimise anyone who supports any kind of violent resistance. Obviously this is goin to hit Muslims hard, but it also has the possibility of hitting the anti-war movement, and the broader left as a whole.

Therefore this law needs to be combatted. Now I'm not some kind of organsational genius butI do have some suggestions:

1) There need to be a poltical mobilisation right now lobbying MPs, protesting etc. Such a movement can be based up a broad coalition, and we should ally with virtually everyone. Particularly the civil libertarian organistions that exist (Liberty, etc,) and any libertarian parliamentarians, this unity is only on the basis of a single issue, much like the No2ID campaign.

2) Should a law be passed then it needs to be opposed in court. Because the wording is loose there is a possibilty that the judges will interpret it narrowly, so as to protect 'free speech'. In order to make sure this happends we need to keep up the pressure, and left leaning lawyers (there are a few)/libertarian lawyers will be needed.

3) There is also the possibility (slim perhaps) that such a law can be challenged under the Human Rights Act. On the basis of A v. Secretary of State for the Home Department any derogation from the ECHR must be proportionate, this means:

a) there must a threat to the life of the nation
b) there must a legitimate aim to the interference with the 'right'
c) the means must be rationally related to the end
d) there must not be an excessive or arbitrary imapct

Following the London Bombings A and B would certainly be fufilled. I'd also imagine that the London bombings mean the judges will be very careful not to interfere with 'terrorism prevention' (see e.g. Michael Howard's 'warning').

This is all very disturbing.

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