People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Arrest Without Any Reason Under Blairs Regime
IF in India the BJP-led NDA government is desperately trying to push through the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), the key ally of George Bush in his fight against terrorism, which has no rational reasoning nor any sanity, the Labour government led by Tony Blair in Britain seems to be crossing all limits in implementing draconian measures to curb all voice of dissent.
Where could ordinary people be arrested and locked up indefinitely without a trial and without being told the charges against them ? Britain, under home secretary David Blunketts new anti-terrorism laws. It exposes the "democracy" Britain and the US claim they stand for around the world.
The British prime ministers spokesperson boasted that "we have some of the toughest laws anywhere in the world" after the governments Terrorism Act earlier this year.
Now Blunkett wants to go further. A person can be jailed indefinitely, without trial, if the home secretary labels him/her a suspected foreign terrorist. This is wiping out the principle of habeas corpus that has existed since the 17th century, that maintains that no one can be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
Blunkett has labelled his critics "airy fairy libertarians". But as John Wadham from the human rights organisation Liberty, has said,
"The government wants to jail people not for anything they have done, but for what the home secretary thinks they might do in the future. Other illiberal measures are being smuggled in under the cover of proposals to deal with the events of September 11. Too many of these measures will not make us safer, but will make us less free."
Blunkett claims the anti-terrorism bill is not like internment, which the British Tory government introduced in Northern Ireland 30 years ago. It will be targeted at "a handful of people" who are "known" terrorists. Northern Irelands prime minister, Brian Faulkner, also argued that each of the 342 Catholics arrested in August 1971, "was either a terrorist or a member of the IRA".
This was a lie. Leaders of the non-violent civil rights movement were arrested, along with socialists, trade unionists and ordinary Catholics. No Loyalists were arrested, although Loyalist groups had been responsible for most of the killings in Northern Ireland, mainly of innocent Catholics, since the mid-1960s.
BUT STRONGLY OPPOSED
But the Labour government suffered the biggest rebellion of this parliament when 32 of its MPs demanded a form of judicial review over the new government powers to detain suspected foreign terrorists without trial.
Earlier, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, had tried to make the main and most controversial plank of the ministers controversial anti-terrorism legislation more palatable, by promising that the detention powers would lapse after five years. Blunkett made his concession of a so-called "sunset clause" to the bill after he suffered a hail of criticism this week from Labour backbenchers and opposition MPs, that his plans were too draconian.
However, more than 30 Labour MPs still regarded as inadequate the proposed rights to review any home secretarys decision to detain without trial.
In the British parliament also, the battle lines were drawn up on expected lines ( the readers will recall that in our previous articles on the political situation of Britain, we were apprehensive about the direction being followed by Tony Blairs "New Labour", which is almost similar to the Conservatives)
Here too, the Conservatives refused to vote against the proposals, leaving the Labour rebels to combine with the Liberal Democrats. The attempt to block the move was defeated by 325 votes to 89, a government majority of 236. Blunkett had argued that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) amounted to a form of judicial review.
SIAC can, on a limited basis, review any detention decision of the home secretary. However, many Labour MPs claimed the rules of evidence and representation in such a commission fell short of a full judicial review.
The five-year sunset clause conceded by Blunkett means that if the government wants in five years time to retain the power to detain foreign terrorists without trial, ministers would have to table a fresh bill. Similar renewal provisions exist for British terrorism laws.
Earlier the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the British government was guilty of "inhuman and degrading treatment" of the prisoners who suffered physical and mental torture. Catholics were so horrified at internment that they had began mass resistance to it. Thousands joined protests against internment, including in a march on Derry in January 1972, now ignonimously known in history as "Bloody Sunday" after British soldiers killed 14 unarmed demonstrators.
The British government finally abandoned internment in 1975, after the resulting repression led many young Catholics to turn to the IRA to defend their communities.
THE GULF WAR
During the Gulf War in 1991, the Tory government rounded up "terrorist suspects" in Britain. Some 90 nationals from Arabic countries were imprisoned without charge. Many were held in solitary confinement for days. Few were ever charged with any offence. And a number were arrested.
A solicitor who dealt with some of those arrested has said "They grabbed anyone from a Middle East background doing engineering and science research work. Some were in Britain on scholarships funded by British companies. I went down to Pentonville prison to interview them about their cases. At one stage there were 40 of them in that prison. They were not given any information as to why they were detained. All they could do was protest their innocence in a fairly general way."
The security services based their "intelligence" and arrests on out of date files and rumours. The round-up included businessmen, campaigners against Saddam Hussein, and leading Palestinian moderates. Students were arrested after being labelled as military personnel. The US chairman of an insurance company was arrested, as was a man mistakenly arrested because he had the same surname as another suspect.
A campaign grew against the arrest in north London of Palestinian-born refugee Abbas Shiblak. He and his family had been granted permission to stay in Britain, but after the Gulf War started the police and immigration officers tried to deport him for "reasons of national security". Abbas Shiblak had been a public critic of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, yet he was imprisoned.
As one letter writer in The Times Professor Brian Simpson, commented last week, on Blunketts new plans, "Judging from the previous use of the power of detention in wartime Britain, in Northern Ireland, and during the Gulf War, it is highly probable that the power will be abused."
MAKING PROTEST CRIMINAL
Thus bill could criminalise many ordinary people across Britain. Under New Labours current Terrorism Act, demonstrators can already be labelled "terrorists". Now Blunkett has buried away in the "miscellaneous" section of his new bill a plan to "speed up extradition arrangements between European member states".
A government faced with a demonstration like the July protest in Genoa against the G8 summit, could demand a "terrorist" demonstrator is deported to its country to face charges. Blunketts new bill will also increase police powers to target demonstrators in Britain.
It will be a criminal offence to publish details of the movement of nuclear waste trains. This will affect the work of groups like CND, which have campaigned against the transport of dangerous nuclear material.
Officers will also be allowed to jail for a month anyone who refuses to remove a mask, gloves or face paint "in a place where the police think violence may take place".
As Paul Routledge, the Labour-supporting political editor of the Mirror, said on Friday last week,
"Face paint? Gloves? These powers are not being introduced to deal with international terrorists. They are aimed at British protesters over animal rights, global capitalism and other contentious issues such as nuclear power stations. Mostly they are just kids who feel strongly about aspects of life."
The law may or may not be used to its fullest extent even after it is rushed through parliament for Christmas. But New Labour clearly wants to use the "war on terrorism" to further attack refugees by labelling them terrorists, and crush the rights of all of us to protest.