British government plans further expansion of oppressive terror laws

Police at Heathrow Airport

On 6 June 2018, Home Secretary Sajid Javid introduced a new Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill. The Bill contains provisions which will further restrict freedom of expression and protest under the guise of protecting the country.

In pursuit of this agenda, the Bill contains a new power to detain at any border or port ‘persons suspected of involvement in hostile activity for, on behalf of, or otherwise in the interests of, a State other than the United Kingdom’. Sajid Javid said that, following the reported chemical attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March, the police ‘need robust powers to investigate, identify and challenge those acting against our interests’ and has called this proposed Bill ‘a necessary and proportionate response’.

This new proposed power is, according to the government’s own description, closely modelled on Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Schedule 7 has long been controversial, and in 2014 the government was forced to reduce the maximum detention time from nine to six hours and permit the attendance of lawyers, which had not previously been allowed for.

This sabre-rattling against a perceived Russian enemy is clearly only part of the government agenda, as the proposed new powers are mainly geared towards ramping up the already draconian anti-terrorism regime, which is based on laws introduced by the 1997-2010 Labour government, to even more repressive levels. Just as with previous expansions to racist immigration laws, the government is willing to find any excuse to exert more control over migrant populations and further divide the working class.

Another proposed measure extends the internet-related offence of ‘obtaining information likely to be useful to a terrorist’ to cover material that is viewed three or more times, rather than permanently downloaded. The maximum sentence for this and for various other terror-related crimes will be increased to 15 years – more than double the old maximum sentence, This  has been condemned by Liberty, the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) and the government’s ‘terrorism watchdog’, with JCHR pointing to ‘a clear risk that this clause would catch academics, journalists and researchers, as well as those who view such material out of curiosity or foolishness without any [criminal] intent.’

Other planned provisions include:

  • using the offence of ‘inviting support for a proscribed organisation’ to cover expressions of support that are ‘reckless as to whether they will encourage others to support the organisation’;
  • using the existing offence related to displaying flags, emblems and other symbols of proscribed organisations to cover doing so online;
  • new powers to prosecute people for terrorism offences committed abroad;
  • requirements for people on the Registered Terrorist Offenders list to provide the police with information about their lives in the way that sex offenders do;
  • the addition of terrorism to the list of offences that can result in the imposition of a Serious Crime Prevention Order – a court order under which a person’s freedom of movement and communication can be subject to restrictions, and the breach of which is punishable by imprisonment.

While these measures target all sections of the population, this Bill is clearly designed to operate alongside the increasingly vicious attacks on migrants under Theresa May’s 2014 and 2016 ‘hostile environment’ Immigration Acts. These have been under the spotlight following the ‘Windrush scandal’ and, on 28 June, it was revealed that over the past five years the government has had to pay out £21m in compensation to individuals who were ‘mistakenly’ detained under immigration law.

This Bill is the latest in a long line of racist immigration and anti-terrorism laws. As crisis deepens it has become more and more necessary for the ruling class to implement harsher controls, which always target working class people. The working class is attacked again and again with more barriers to freedom of movement and more controls on freedom of expression.

Jacob Dexter

 Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 265 August/September 2018

 

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