Socialist Worker

Cornered Blair attacks our civil liberties

Issue No. 1884

NEW LABOUR has lost the argument over the war on Iraq. Blair admitted that last week when he said weapons of mass destruction may never be found.

He fears Lord Hutton's delayed report could further rip open the government's war lies. Blair is cornered over Iraq. His response is to turn on people who opposed his war.

New Labour's anti-terror legislation is hitting Muslim communities across Britain. They are at the sharp end of Blair's onslaught on civil liberties. But the new laws are an attack on anyone who protested against the war. Over 8,000 people have already been stopped under the current anti-terrorism laws-including many protesters at DSEi, Europe's largest arms fair, held in east London in September.

The laws have nothing to do with making people in Britain safe from terrorist attack. They give the police free rein to target mainly young Asian men. Police can harass and abuse them, raid their homes and arrest them, and claim they are "suspected terrorists".

That intimidation is provoking fear and anger. Some 600 people gathered for a meeting in Gloucester in December after the high-profile arrest of Sajid Badat. Over 150 people met in Birmingham's central mosque this month (see report on page 2) to discuss what is happening.

Irish people in Britain have some experience of what it feels like to be a community under siege. The Labour government in 1974 introduced its Prevention of Terrorism Act, supposedly as a response to the IRA bombings. It meant many Irish people suffered police harassment and persecution.

In its first three months some 489 people were arrested and detained at police stations. Only 16 were ever charged with any offence at all. It didn't "stop terrorism". It did make wide layers of people wary of joining protest activity in case they became a target for the terror laws.

Over 500 people have been arrested under Britain's anti-terrorism acts since 11 September 2001 and many more have been harassed. Only about 70 of them have been charged-mostly with immigration offences. Just seven have been convicted.

None of these seven were found guilty of planning or carrying out specific acts of terror. Almost all of the people arrested and harassed have been Muslims, but only two of the people convicted were Muslim. (For details of the anti-terror laws go to www.sacc.org.uk).

Yet New Labour doesn't think it has enough powers to harass the innocent. Its new Civil Contingencies Bill will further attack the rights of everyone in Britain. The bill is an extension of the 1920 Emergency Powers Act, which has only ever been used against trade unions and striking workers.

The draconian new powers will mean ministers can evacuate "trouble areas", impose curfews to prevent people travelling at certain times, deploy troops to an "emergency" in Britain, take over or destroy property and outlaw public gatherings.

These can be enforced, without parliament's approval, if the government thinks there is a threat to human welfare, the environment or national security. It is an attack on the millions who joined protests against war on Iraq and exposed New Labour's lies.

Everyone who took part should protest against the government's war on our civil liberties.


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What We Think
Sat 17 Jan 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1884
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