Socialist Worker

Terror laws hit innocent

CHARLIE KIMBER on the scare stories over 'terrorist' suspects

Issue No. 1835

THE WEEKEND'S newspapers had some of the most uplifting coverage for ages-and some of the most disgusting. On the one hand, there was extensive coverage of the mushrooming anti-war movement across the globe. On the other, there was a deluge of bile against asylum seekers, linking them with terrorism and whipping up a frenzy whereby every refugee could be a killer with a vat of ricin in their flat.

A moment's thought would suggest that any 'terrorist' organisation is very unlikely to place its operatives in Britain through getting them to seek asylum. It would simply be far too likely to end with detention and deportation. But when it comes to refugees the truth has never bothered sections of the media and some politicians. They do not mind if the result is hatred and violence. Every arrest of an alleged terrorist gets huge coverage. What gets completely buried is the eventual outcome of subsequent investigations.

Six Algerians arrested in November were accused of being Al Qaida terrorists plotting mass murder on the tube. They were eventually charged only with passport violations. A group of six people arrested on terrorism charges in London in December turned out to be five Turkish and one English supporter of a left wing Turkish group. These examples show how the authorities are rounding people up and in the process eroding civil liberties for all of us.

In December 2001 a series of police raids in London, Luton and Birmingham saw arrests of men labelled 'international terrorists' with links to extremist organisations. All were taken to high security prisons and classified as the highest risk. There they were refused access to lawyers or telephones. Their families were not informed where they had been taken.

It was not until three months later that the men heard the nature of some of the allegations against them. Even their own lawyers had been forbidden from knowing the contents of the files.

The men included an Algerian, a Moroccan, an Egyptian and a Tunisian. The majority had been rounded up on previous occasions. Some had cases against them dropped for lack of evidence but were then rearrested on that same evidence. The prisoners were called 'Bin men' by prison warders and their cells were dubbed 'Bin Laden's corner'.

One detainee was an Algerian who was arrested in 1997 and accused of supporting the Algerian GIA, an Islamic organisation heavily penetrated by Algerian government agents provocateurs. He had been acquitted. Since then, the Home Office later told an immigration tribunal, 'he has been maintaining a lower profile. MI5 assesses that this will in part reflect that he has become even more security conscious since his arrest.

'However, he has maintained contact with a range of Algerian extremists in the UK.' The man has done nothing, which just shows how devious he is! What could be more damning?

The detention of the men was finally ruled illegal by the courts. None of them was charged as a terrorist.

We should remember what happened when a Labour government rushed through the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in 1974 after IRA bombings. According to official statistics, 97 percent of those held under the PTA were released without charge. The 1 percent who were convicted and imprisoned included some of the most notable miscarriages of justice.

The first person arrested under the PTA was Paul Hill, a member of the Guildford Four. He was wrongly jailed for 15 years, even though he was completely innocent. The PTA meant that every year tens of thousands of Irish people were stopped and questioned when travelling between Ireland and Britain. Every Irish person became a suspect. The PTA has now gone, but it has been replaced with even more brutal laws.

The Terrorism Act 2000 broadened the definition of terrorism to include 'the threat of serious damage to property', in ways 'designed to influence the government' for a 'political cause'. That could include organising a protest involving breaching the fence of a war base.

The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 went even further. It meant non-UK citizens could be interned for an indefinite period without trial and that everyone has the duty to inform the police about anyone 'suspected' of committing or planning 'terrorist' activity.

The authorities are trying to extend the 'war on terror' to become a war on dissent. Civil liberties are being snatched away. And if they get away with doing it to refugees and immigrants, they will do the same in the longer term to other 'difficult' groups.

The British government interned innocent people during the war in Ireland and during the first Gulf War. They are doing the same again now. We all feel immensely strengthened by the global anti-war movement. It is a time of inspiration and hope.

At the same time as combating the drive to war we need to fight for justice for all those who are presently under the cosh of the British state and its 'anti-terror' laws.

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Sat 25 Jan 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1835
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