Amnesty International on terror laws: Dangerous. Ill-conceived. An assault on human rights

Ben Russell,Nigel Morris
Wednesday 02 November 2005 01:00 GMT

In a submission to MPs, Amnesty International denounced the proposals to increase police powers of detention and make a new offence of the glorification of terrorism. It called them "ill-conceived and dangerous", amounting to an attack on "the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law".

The organisation's onslaught - in the strongest language it has deployed against the Blair Government - came as ministers braced themselves for sustained opposition to the Terrorism Bill when it is debated in the Commons from today. The Bill has already been condemned by senior judges, lawyers and civil liberties groups.

A potentially powerful combination of opposition and rebel Labour MPs are preparing to vote against plans to give police powers to hold suspects for up to 90 days without trial - denounced as effective internment. They also plan to oppose the creation of an offence of "glorifying"' terrorism.

Amnesty's attack comes after a recent warning from Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Government's terror watchdog, that 90-day detention could breach human rights law.

The submission to MPs states: "Since the war on terror was declared by the US government in 2001, the UK authorities have mounted a sustained attack on human rights, the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law."

It warned that the Bill contained "sweeping and vague provisions that undermine the rights to freedom and expression and association, the right to liberty, the prohibition of arbitrary detention, the rights to the presumption of innocence and fair trial".

Amnesty International added: "One proposal is to introduce a crime that involves the 'glorification of terrorism'. Such terms are broad, vague and subjective. They have no legal clarity and can, therefore, be used arbitrarily to restrict human rights, including freedom of expression." It said the measures proposed after the bombings in London on 7 July were "inconsistent with the UK's obligations under domestic and international human rights law and that, if enacted, they would lead to severe human rights violations".

The organisation made clear its alarm at the potential for new powers to be abused. It said: "Once any government begins to 'sacrifice' human rights in the name of security, it is not long before individuals pay the price."

It said the anti-terror measures across the world had led to dissent being stifled and allowed the state to commit human rights abuses. Its report said evidence of that trend was already apparent in Britain "with peaceful protesters who have been subjected to police action under legislative provisions originally introduced to purportedly counter terrorism".

Amnesty condemned Mr Blair's 12-point anti-terror plan, saying: "Every element of which signalled further assaults on human rights, particularly for those identified as Muslims, foreign nationals and asylum-seekers." It said government statements linking the terrorist threat with foreigners were "encouraging xenophobia, racism and faith-hate crimes".

"There is a real danger that a range of the proposed additional measures will further alienate the very communities the Government needs on its side."

The Bill's critics will denounce the detention plans today as draconian and protest that the proposed ban on the "glorification" of terrorism is too widely drawn.

The Government's case for 90-day detention was supported yesterday by Andy Hayman, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Mr Hayman, who is leading the hunt for al-Qa'ida sympathisers in Britain, said: "We should not allow a premature guillotine to frustrate or prevent the gathering of best evidence."

He urged the Home Office not to barter down the length of the detention period "as you would buy a second-hand car" and there was little sign ministers were preparing to offer a compromise on that at this stage.

They are expected to delay any concessions until next week - and before the Bill reaches the Lords - after the Government has assessed the strength of opposition to the proposals.

Ministers have already conceded that judges more senior than originally proposed would approve the renewal of detention orders every seven days.

Left-wing Labour MPs, the Tories and Liberal Democrats have all attacked the detention proposal, saying it breaches human rights. They also argue that it risks radicalising Muslims who are arrested.

David Winnick, a Labour MP, has tabled a proposal suggesting the period be set at 28 days. He said such a move would win support across the Commons and the Lords would find it hard to overturn.

Opposition parties and civil liberties groups have also claimed that the "glorification" proposal is so vaguely worded that it could, for instance, make criminals of people who criticise brutal regimes in Burma or Zimbabwe.

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "As this Bill stands, it will do more harm than good in the fight against terrorism in this country.

"Detention without charge for three months goes against the fundamental principles of justice and I hope Labour backbenchers will recognise it as such."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: " Criminalising free speech and introducing internment are dangerously counter-productive to fighting terrorism."

A Home Office spokeswoman said last night: "We believe this Bill is compliant with human rights requirement under the European Convention. All the proposals that have been made in the Bill allow prosecutions through the normal court process."

'The rules of the game have changed'


Introduced new powers for police to hold terror suspects for up to seven days without charge - increased to 14 days in 2003 - and widened powers to ban international terror organisations. It created new offences of inciting terrorist acts, providing training for terrorist purposes and providing instruction or training in the use of firearms, explosives or chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Government says: Replaced anti-terror legislation that dealt mainly with Northern Ireland to reflect the new international nature of the terrorist threat.

Amnesty argues: The Act introduced a "dangerously vague and broad definition of terrorism" and made temporary anti-terrorism legislation from the 1970s a permanent feature of British law.


Gave the Home Secretary powers to hold foreign terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial if they could not be deported for human rights reasons. Suspects were not given full evidence against them. Seventeen were eventually held at Belmarsh and other prisons.

Government says: Tough new measures required in the wake of the 11 September attacks; reflected concerns that Britain was a haven for terrorism.

Amnesty argues: The Act "violated a wide range of human rights", and introduced powers tantamount to a minister charging, trying and sentencing people without fair trial. Detainees were thrown into a " Kafkaesque world", and interned under "harsh conditions" using secret evidence.


Repealed powers to detain foreign terror suspects without charge, after they were ruled illegal by the law lords. Introduced powers to impose " control orders" limiting the movements and communications of suspects. Powers were extended to all British and foreign nationals.

Government says: Fresh laws urgently needed to keep track of potentially dangerous foreign terrorists.

Amnesty argues: The legislation was "hastily passed" to implement control orders restricting the human rights of suspects and their families. Most suspects were later imprisoned pending deportation on national security grounds. Amnesty says the cumulative effect of the detainees' treatment "amounts to persecution".


Creates a new offence of glorifying or inciting terrorism, attending a terrorist training camp and preparing terrorist acts. It also gives police powers to hold suspects for up to 90 days.

Government says: The rules have changed after the July bombings in London. Existing legislation contains a number of loopholes that need to be closed.

Amnesty argues: The Bill "contains further sweeping and vague provisions that undermine the rights to freedom of expression and association, the right to liberty, the prohibition of arbitrary detention, the rights to the presumption of innocence and fair trial."

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