Downing Street Protest Against Terror Law

Press Release from the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

Mark Thomas, Bruce Kent and Gareth Pierce will address a protest against the government's Counter Terrorism Bill 2008 opposite to Downing Street with other civil society leaders from 5 to 7 pm on Monday 12 May 2008.

On June 16th, MPs will vote in Parliament on proposals for the fifth set of new anti-terror laws in this country since 2000. Rather than making Britain a safer country, these laws have given wide powers to arrest and prosecute for 'crimes' of speech and political association, and they have seriously undermined the historic right to a fair trial. They have created a climate of fear for Muslim and migrant communities. Out of the 1200+ individuals arrested under anti-terrorism laws in the past few years, less than 5[PC] have been convicted of "terrorism" offences and less than 20[PC] were even charged with such offences. Although the extension of pre-charge detention from 28 to 42 days has been widely criticised, the draft bill has many proposed police powers which are equally pernicious, extending punishment without trial, particularly when the definition of terrorism under Terrorism Act 2000 is so broad that people are being jailed for possessing DVDs and downloading web pages.

Extra powers -for surveillance, pre-charge questioning and legal obligations to disclose 'suspicious' financial transactions-will further encourage arbitrary arrests. Targeting information 'which could be useful for terrorism’, can mean nearly anything and would generally be linked to political activities in order to justify prosecutions, as well as to harass activists. Restrictions could be imposed on travellers to international demonstrations. The Bill would also criminalise the collection of information on armed forces by investigative journalists, thus attacking free speech.

Sinister also are the attempts to extend 'secret'court procedures to confiscation of property and to inquests, partly or wholly held in camera, a move to avoid accountability. A new offence making criminal the failure by volunteers in charities or NGOs to disclose information to police is an attack on the right to silence.

Notes to editors

  1. The full list of speakers addressing the protest includes Mark Thomas, comedian/writer; Gareth Peirce, Human Rights Lawyer ;Sabina Frediani, Liberty; Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers; Bruce Kent, Progressing Prisoners, Maintaining Innocence; Lindsey German, Convenor, Stop the War Coalition; Arzu Pesmen, Chair Kurdish Federation UK; Mahan Abedin, Director of Research, Centre for the Study of Terrorism; Asim Qureshi, CagePrisoners.
  2. Apart from the extension of detention without charge to 42 days, the CT Bill has many proposals which undermine the rights of 'suspects'to due legal process and impose ever greater punishment without trial.
    • Post-charge questioning of "terror suspects" – possibly right up to the trial date, presuming that the "suspects" are guilty
    • Conviction of ordinary offences will result in longer sentences if they are considered to have a "terrorism connection"
    • Convicted "terrorists" can have their property confiscated – bank accounts, vehicles, computers, homes, etc. – a punishment not just them for them but also for their families who may have no connection to the offence
    • Extra punishment – a ban on foreign travel and having to inform police of whereabouts for convicted "terrorists"; this would be imposed without any proper court procedure
    • Secret inquests – inquests into deaths caused by police action may be held secretly in the interest of national security. The police will not be brought to account in any future cases like the Menezes shooting
    • Penalising charities – volunteers at charities who do not give information to the police of suspected terrorist activity at their place of work – supporting a banned "terrorist" organisation, for example – could face prosecution
    • Penalising anti-war protest – seeking or communicating information about the armed forces that could supposedly be useful to terrorism will also become an offence. The Bill would also criminalise the collection of information on armed forces by investigative journalists, thus attacking free speech.
  3. The protest is organised by CAMPACC which set up the National Campaign Against Anti-Terror Powers now supported by 26 other civil society organisations. These are : The 1990 Trust; Baluch Human Rights Group. Cageprisoners; Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF); Centre for the Study of Terrorism (CFSOT);Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers; Index on Censorship; Institute for Policy Research and Development (IPRD); Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC);July 7th Truth Campaign Justice not Vengeance (JNV); Kurdish Federation UK; London Guantanamo Campaign (LGC); Muslim Parliament; Panjaab National History Society; Peace & Progress; Peace and Justice in East London; Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC);Sheffield Muslim Association (MAB)Sheffield Guantanamo Campaign; Solidarity (Scotland’s Socialist Movement); South Asia Solidarity Group (SASG);Stop the War Coalition (STWC); Tamil Campaign for Truth and Justice; Tamil Centre for Human Rights; Westbourne Grove Church.
  4. Further information on the campaign can be obtained from www.campacc.org.uk