THE Blair government’s plans to extend the terrorism laws and allow the police to detain people without charge for 90 days are ‘completely monstrous and should be fought in every single way’.
That was the message to a packed meeting convened in the House of Commons on Tuesday night, from human rights lawyer, Louise Christian.
The meeting was convened by CAMPACC (the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities) and other speakers included barrister Mike Mansfield QC, Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams, Labour peer Lord Reay, Doug Jewell of Liberty and NATFHE teachers’ union official Trevor Phillips.
Louise Christian said that the Terrorism Act 2000 had already established a ‘very wide definition’ of ‘terrorism’, which already threatened support for national liberation movements overseas.
She wondered what would happen to an exhibition about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot in the House of Commons, if the new Bill with its clauses about ‘glorifying terrorism’ becomes law.
‘Charles Clarke is still allowing himself to put events on the list that are more than 20 years old,’ she said.
‘This is very, very serious stuff.’
She said the entire Bill was a threat to the basic democratic rights of everyone in Britain.
‘There is none of it that is not damaging to civil liberties.’
She warned that the regime the government was establishing was ‘not properly defined, so that people don’t know if they’re breaking the law’.
‘Everyone should be worried about it,’ she said.
Christian added that ‘once you get a situation where anyone can be criminalised for association’, it would create an ‘unbridgeable divide’ from ‘the law-enforcement authorities’.
‘I think it is extremely dangerous.’
‘This is not the way to respond to terrorism,’ she insisted.
‘We are going to see miscarriages of justice like the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six.’
She added that extending detention without charge from 14 days to 90 days never even happened during the IRA bombing campaign, when it was seven days.
And Christian said that she and others have been making ‘vigorous protests’ about remarks the police made at their briefing alongside Home Secretary Clarke about why they wanted to extend the time period to 90 days.
Finally, said Christian, the government powers will allow the state to close down mosques and other places on grounds of ‘extremism’.
‘Who decides who’s an extremist or not? One person’s “extremist’’ is another person’s moderate, just as one person’s “terrorist’’ is another person’s freedom fighter.’
The government was threatening freedom of expression in Britain and reminded everyone about US President Bush’s recent remarks that ‘God’ had told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.
Labour peer Lord Reay said the government was trying to create a climate of fear to get backing for its plans for 90-day internment.
‘Innocent people will almost inevitably be caught up in this process,’ he said.
Mike Mansfield QC said to applause: ‘It is an unfortunate and sad reflection on our democracy that so few MPs have come.’
He said that the real purpose of all the terrorism laws, since the first Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1974, was nothing to do with fighting terrorism.
When the first Act was introduced in 1974, people were told it was only going to be ‘temporary’, Mansfield continued.
‘We always said it wouldn’t be.
‘Then we were told they would “only be used against the Irish’’, as if that was alright!
He said governments of ‘which ever colour’ had since then introduced a ‘raft of legislation under the heading “anti-terror’’, none of which ‘have made the slightest difference’ to preventing terrorism.
‘That is what I would have wanted to have told MPs (tonight),’ he added.
‘We have a perfectly adequate criminal justice system,’ he said. ‘It’s all there already.’
He said the new Bill introduced ‘a concept, a political concept’, infringing on people’s basic right to oppose government policy.
He said the Bill was ‘dealing with an extraordinarily wide definition of terrorism’.
And he said he felt ‘particularly angry’ about the ‘ricin’ case, now being mentioned, where there was actually no ricin attack and people were acquitted by a jury.
‘Three jurors had the courage to go on Panorama about this case,’ he said.
‘This is the pinnacle of iniquity for me.’
Now, he said, one of his clients had been put back into detention ‘on what’s basically the precise same information’ on which a jury acquitted him of all charges. This is a disgrace.’
Mansfield also condemned the ‘rendition process’ of sending people to other countries where they could be tortured.
‘Juries are going to be abolished, if Tony Blair has his way in the future!’ he went on to warn.
‘Blair wants effectively to execute summary justice on our streets.
‘They are a package of measures which have absolutely nothing to do – and never have had – with terrorism, which I abhor.’
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten was invited to address the meeting.
He said the Liberal Democrats supported some of the powers, but said they would oppose any extension of detention for questioning beyond 14 days.
‘We saw how this authoritarian government on the back of terrorism wanted to introduce ID cards,’ he said.
But he added: ‘We have agreed to support the government in creating some measures.
‘But the government has gone way beyond those measures and blown the consensus apart.’
He said 90-day detention ‘undermines all the principles we hold dear and we’ll argue the case against it’.
Nafeez Mosaddez Ahmed, spoke about his book ‘The War on Truth’ and said there were extensive Western intelligence, financial and military connections to Al Qaeda, developed from the war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan to the war against Yugoslavia in the Balkans.
‘Our national security has been directly undermined by government policy,’ he said. ‘This undermines the whole basis of the “war on terror’’.’
Doug Jewell of Liberty said the new Bill was ‘extremely frightening and extremely counter-productive’.
He said people’s basic rights were being ‘kicked around’ like a political football.
He said the government was not retreating, but has in fact collapsed the ‘glorification’ clause into the clause on ‘encouraging terrorism’ in the Bill.
‘Anything you say in terms of a national liberation movement can mean you could face arrest and be tried.’
He also warned against the plans to extend the proscription of organisations to organisations ‘not involved in violence’.
‘There are people who hold views in this room I may disagree with, but I don’t wish to see them banged up for it for goodness sake!’ he added.
He condemned what happened to 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang, who fled the Nazis in the 1930s, only to be arrested ‘under Section 44’ of the Terrorism Act 2000 as he tried to get back into the Labour Party conference.
‘Six hundred people were stopped and searched under Section 44 at the Labour Party conference,’ he said.
Barrister Bill Bowring, professor of Human Rights and International Law, likened Home Secretary Clarke to ‘the Castlereagh of today’.
He said Clarke had not answered if the new powers would have led ‘to the persecution of people who supported Nelson Mandela and the ANC’ in their struggle to smash Apartheid in South Africa.
NATFHE official Trevor Phillips, from the Stop The War Coalition, also spoke and there were many other speakers from the platform and the floor.
Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams said: ‘The Rev. TE Nicholas was arrested in the pulpit in World War One for preaching against war, in Swansea.
‘He was released eventually because not one of the congregation would give evidence against him.’