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In the fight against global terrorism, measures adopted by governments in the west to counter terrorism by adoption of anti-terrorism legislation have presented serious challenges to the rule of law and human rights. The freedom of expression has not been spared either. Often, such states have engaged people to ill-treatment such as torture and other malpractice while disregarding the conventional regular practices of detecting and stopping crime. Judiciary independence has been compromised sometimes by the formation of exceptional courts aimed at trying and prosecuting civilians. Repressive and brutal measures have been witnessed in the west aimed at stifling the human rights voices of the defenders, minorities, civil societies, journalists and indigenous groups. This paper seeks to review the impact of anti-terrorism measures on the freedom of expressions in the west with special interest in the United Kingdom (UK).
The Overbroad Definition of Terrorism
The definition of terrorism under UK law is contained in the Terrorism Act 2000. The current definition is excessively broad and vague often infringing into the personal rights of the citizens. Terrorism legislations have often been enacted due to some specific bombings and attacks of isolated cases and therefore, they do not often capture the realities on the ground. The definition does not only outlaw acts that are naturally terrorist but also demonstrations and gatherings that are either legitimate or are unlawful but however, that cannot be termed as terrorist (London 2006, pp. 2-3).
That broad vague definition of terrorism gives the executive a lot of powers that are prone to abuse and manipulation, and often has seen the unfair trials and convictions of innocent people. The laws could especially be drafted to be proportionate to the legitimate objectives of protecting the national security of the state. The definition of terrorism as contained in section 1 of the Act ignores this principle. That broad and vague description outlaws legitimate demonstrations and gatherings. With the toughening up of laws after 2001, the definition of terrorism has broadened to include behaviors and acts that however unlawful, do not reach the level that the Act justifies. Such acts and behavior could just warrant a response by a public order but as history has showed, many demonstrations have been labeled ‘terrorist’ and stern draconian anti-terrorist reaction by the administration unleashed on civilian demonstrators. The adoption of these broad definitions has often led to arrest and interrogation of individuals targeted for religious, political and ideological reasons disguised as investigation, prevention and detection measures (Roach 2011). As a result of the vague and broadly reaching definition and measures adopted for terrorism prevention, innocent citizens whom the law should normally protect have been exposed to harassment, unfair hearing, and conviction.
Frequent Use of Anti-Terror Legislation to Block Legitimate Freedoms of Demonstrations and Expressions
In the UK, the Terrorism Act of 2000 gives rests a lot of powers on the government including powers for the government security agencies to “stop and search” in the interest of national security. Such powers have been used by the police to crush lawful protests with unparalleled brutality while other insignificant public order disturbances have been confronted with excessive force. For example, a 21 year old student was detained for taking still photographs of the M3 motorway which he was to use in designing a website for a company (Cram 2009). Also the incident that saw an eleven-year-old girl get stopped and searched due to her participation in an RAF base peaceful demonstration strongly show the wrongful application of this law (Cram 2009).
Additionally, the police have often been accused of wildly interpreting the law thus increasing the number of police stops and searches in the name of implementing the 2000 Act. For example, Hampshire police patrol located in a largely rural area in the July-October period in 2005 did about 4,500 anti-terror stops and searches (Roach 2011). The guiding principles for police action as contained in the Home Office Circular leaves a lot of discretion to the authority to exercise their powers on a broad spectrum promoting the growth and development of a police state rather than a welfare democratic state that the UK and other leading global authority seek to establish.
Prohibition of Justification and Glorification of Terrorism
The recent policies and legislations by the UK authorities have gone beyond the point of just preventing and prohibiting instigation and direct terrorist acts to the point of prohibiting justification and glorification of terrorism. Terrorism Act 2006 went ahead to create new offenses that were categorized as unlawful such as “indirect” and “direct inducement” and “encouragement of terrorism.” Such new offenses include the deportation of non-UK citizens for justifying and glorifying terrorism as contained in the Home Office Policy 2005. With the arbitrary interpretation of the law by the police department, a citizen can find himself being arrested for less offensive charges and subsequently being denied the right to a fair trial (O'Halloran 2007).
Such inclusions among other prohibitions in the new laws extensively violate the people’s freedom of expression. The “indirect and direct encouragement of terrorism” as defined in the new laws thereby borrows the broad and vague definition of the Terrorism Act of 2000 as already discussed. Home Office Policy even adds justification to those prohibited forms of expression under its laws but more insincere is the fact that the toughened rules are a reserve of non-UK citizens. Such terms as “inducement” and “encouragement” are very vague while the meaning of “other inducement and indirect encouragement” as contained in the new laws is so vague to the point of totally having no meaning (Sakulin 2011).
Moreover, the terms “justification” and “glorification” have been understood to also include sympathy and expression of one’s support and understanding of terrorism. The inclusion of such statements may criminalize lawful statements aimed at initiating political social-political debates especially by Muslim leaders who have since time in memorial been criticizing the UKs way of liberal life. Freedom of expression is therefore further curtailed in religious rallies and mosques further marginalizing the Muslim community that has constantly felt under threat.
Usually the freedom of expression should protect views that are both favorable and unfavorable. Interestingly, it should accommodate even those expressions that may seem offensive, shocking or controversial as long as they do not infringe other people’s rights. Individuals, organizations and the press have a right of airing such expressions and views while the public has a constitutional right of hearing them. The international judicial organs have especially emphasized the need for protection of these controversial expressions that the UK government has been branding ‘terrorist’ often ending in loss of human life for its citizens that it seeks to protect. Therefore, in the government’s effort to fight terrorism, people’s rights to receive and impart ideas and information have been trampled underfoot. In quest to follow matters of national security, the government has violated the law of the land by violating the human rights that it is supposed to be guarding dearly.
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