The UK’s current terrorism legislation began as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and in the 17 years since has reflected the growing Islamophobic political ideology of Britain.
The legislation has repeatedly been found to breach human rights law and has had to be repeatedly changed.
However, instead of this leading to improvement over the years these laws have become worse as they have systematically been expanded to incorporate an increasingly anti-Muslim policy around “radicalisation”.
In 2001 the government defined terrorism as the use or threat of serious violent action for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause and focused on international, foreign, violent, terrorism.
Within a decade the focus had changed to a “domestic terrorism” with the emphasis on Prevent and combating “non-violent extremism”.
Today extremism is defined as “vocal opposition to fundamental British values” and reporting “radicalisation” has become the law.
Experts say this “counter-terrorism” regime is actually about silencing political activism in the Muslim community.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LAW
Two months after the 9/11 attacks, the UK Parliament passed the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The Act was widely criticised as "the most draconian legislation Parliament has passed in peacetime in over a century.”
The law allowed indefinite detention without trial. In December 2004, the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that this was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
In 2005, the government replaced indefinite detention without trial with Control Orders; akin to house arrest, these orders could be imposed based on secret evidence and the law even allowed authorities to “opt-out” of human rights law to “severely restrict movement”.
Despite several appeals by the government, Control Orders were also repeatedly ruled illegal and incompatible with Human Rights law by UK Courts and had to be replaced. The government replaced them with almost-identical Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs).
2006 was a significant turning point in Britain’s policy. The terror laws were significantly expanded after the 7/7 London bombings. Individuals could now be held without charge for 28 days and the definition of extremism and terrorism were drastically broadened. Legal experts lined up to warn that the definition was too broad, would prevent freedom of speech and legitimate debate. Academics expressed fears about academic freedom and that they would be asked to “police students”. The government promised this wouldn’t happen (by 2015 the Prevent Duty legislating exactly that was passed in to law.)
In 2008, the law was expanded again to include secret courts and to lengthen detention without charge, with critics warning that “increasingly, ‘anti-terror’ powers are used to convict individuals merely for alleged membership of ‘proscribed’ political organisations, for possessing DVDs, for downloading web pages and to harass protesters for peaceful activities. The bill will further widen the net of innocent people who will be incriminated.”
For example, in 2008, the same year as the law was expanded, Muslim student Rizwan Sabir was held for seven days without charge as a suspected terrorist for downloading a copy of the Al-Qaeda manual from the US government website. Sabir was in fact a post-graduate masters candidate researching the evolution of global militant Islam. Dr. Sabir, won £20,000 compensation for his illegal arrest and it has since been revealed the police “made up” evidence against him.
Yet in 2013 the net was widened further with even more legislation. The Independent Terror Legislation Reviewer warned that “the UK has some of the most extensive anti-terrorsm laws in the western world. But if these exceptional powers are to command public consent, it is important that they should be confined to their proper purpose. Recent years have seen a degree of ‘creep’…political journalists and bloggers are subject to the full range of anti-terrorism powers if they threaten to publish, prepare to publish or publish something that the authorities think may be dangerous.”
This creep was cemented in 2015, when the Prevent Duty, requiring teachers, doctors, lawyers and others to report those at “risk of radicalisation” was made law and in June 2018 a new Bill went further than ever before, with critics warning it “will make thought crime a reality”.
The 2015 and 2018 legislation is anchored in the Prevent strategy and to understand the dangers of this legislation we must first understand the problem with Prevent.