New Terrorism Act Used to Outlaw Political Groups

The Terrorism Act 2000 went through Parliament last year with little opposition and even less publicity. It is a draconian measure that puts on a permanent footing extraordinary measures previously reserved for times of emergency. It continues and extends the broad police powers of arrest and detention that have been criticised in the European Human Rights Court and which many now accept resulted in some of the most serious miscarriages of justice in the 1970s. Its authoritarian measures could be used against any person involved in political or religious activities and not just those in proscribed groups.

The Act extends terrorism to threats and acts aimed at any government in the world. In March an Order was passed banning 21 diverse organisations said to be concerned in terrorism directed against overseas governments and making memebership and support for these groups a criminal offence punishable with up to 10 years imprisionment. Worryingly, the list was rushed through Parliament at 11pm one night and MPs were not allowed to discuss individual cases - it had to be all or none. The list includes most of the main refugee and migrant community political organisations such as the Kurdish PKK, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), the Sikh International Youth Federation (ISYF), Kashmiri and Palestinian groups, as well as several Muslim organisations. A number of these groups have large memberships and strong support within the wider community. The members are active in their locality as community leaders, councillors, members of trade unions and other cultural and religious organisations. These measures are an attack on ethnic minority communities.

Many of the banned groups campaign against repressive governments with poor human rights records, who inflict torture and other abuse on political opponents and suppress democratic processes in their own countries. But the definition of terrorism in the Act takes no account of a right to defend oneself against violence and repression, or of legitimate rights in international law to self determination. The ANC and most other liberation movements would be banned under these provisions and those supporting them would be risking imprisonment for criminal offences.

This Act effects all of our rights to support political causes and to campaign against oppressive regimes.

The Government has gone too far in its attacks on refugee and other migrant communities, in its efforts to placate oppressive foreign regimes and to undermine our civil liberties and freedoms. These measures should be repealed.

Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (0845 458 2966)

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© Networking Newsletter (June 2001)