British Home Secretary Charles Clarke (file photo)
In the wake of last month's deadly London bombings, the British government has unveiled new rules for the barring or deportation of foreigners whose behavior it considers fosters hatred or promotes terrorism. The rules will enable the government to detain and deport extremist preachers, activists, or teachers. Many politicians and members of the public have welcomed the measures in the wake of the terrorist attacks in London. Some civil and human rights organizations and Muslim leaders, however, fear the criteria are too broad and that freedom of speech could be threatened.
London, 26 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The list of so-called unacceptable behaviors includes those which foment, justify, or glorify terrorist violence, or that seek to provoke others to commit terrorist acts.
Behavior that foments serious criminal activity or seeks to provoke others to commit serious criminal acts is also prohibited, as well as acts fostering hatred that could lead to intercommunity violence in Britain.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke says the new rules are a vital tool in the fight against terrorism.
“Those people who seek to foment terrorism -- to justify it, to glorify it -- will not be able to come into this country. And if they are in this country, and they are foreign citizens now, we will ask them to leave. We think it’s very, very important that terrorism has to be stopped by all means possible. And that’s why we’re taking these steps,” Clarke said.
The new rules cover almost all forms of speaking, teaching, writing, producing, and publishing, including websites.
Clarke says the list is “indicative rather than exhaustive” and may be expanded. And he stressed that the new rules had been compiled after consultations with leaders and members of faith communities across the country, including Muslim groups.
Reactions to the new rules by the general public in Britain have been mostly positive. Many stress, however, that legal safeguards should still apply. The reaction of Kate, 34, a chartered surveyor, is typical: “People who definitely, you know, are saying things that incite religious hatred should be deported. But I believe that there should be some sort of legal review or a committee.”
Under the new laws, those given a deportation order in Britain have the right to appeal, while anyone banned from entering the country can seek a judicial review.
Britain's main opposition party, the Conservatives, have welcomed the proposals. David Davis, the "shadow" home secretary, says the new rules strengthen government powers, a move the party had advocated for some time. He said the Conservative Party looks forward to these powers being implemented "robustly and effectively."
The British rights group Liberty, also known as the National Council for Civil Liberties, is concerned, however, that deportees could be tortured or face the death penalty in their home countries. Spokesman Doug Jewell says his group was consulted, but that the new rules unveiled this week do not reflect its concerns.
“Our view has been that if people are suspected of serious terrorist offenses, they should be put on trial. They should be put through the course of law, and they should be convicted, if guilty. If the only option really is to deport, rather than other worse options, such as detaining without trial, then we should only deport according to proper procedure and to places where it is safe to send people,” Jewell said.
Jewell says "memoranda of understanding” with countries where such people could be deported are not enough.
“There has to be serious, robust international oversight of this, and corroboration of safety, as just an absolute minimum before we should even consider deporting people back to these sort of countries,” Jewell said.
Some Muslim leaders are not satisfied either. They believe the new rules are too vague. Khaled Sofi is the chairman of the legal department of the Muslim Council of Britain.
“We have been consulted. We did say that they are too wide. We did say that they have the potential of harming the legitimate struggles. We did say that they might affect freedom of expression. So we welcome that we need to get rid of some people who are preaching hatred, but we think our values of freedom of expression and the legitimacy of some struggles need to be upheld,” Sofi said.
If such wide interpretations had been adhered to in the past, Sofi concludes, Nelson Mandela and other South African freedom fighters could probably have been deported from, or prevented from entering, Britain.
Opponents point out the government cannot hope for quick deportations anyway. They note that such deportations can be challenged at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, then in courts, and in the House of Lords, and finally at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
One of the world's leading human rights groups, Amnesty International, calls the new measures a "serious attack on human rights." It says they "violate basic human rights and the U.K.'s international obligations."
Manfred Nowak, the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, is also critical. He says deportations of radical Islamists to countries with poor human rights records would expose them to what he called a "real risk" of the death penalty.
The British government says it recognizes the sensitivities around the use of these powers, and that it intends to use them in a measured and targeted way.
Home Secretary Clarke emphasizes that the new powers are not intended to stifle free speech or legitimate debate about religions or other issues. Britain, he said, is "rightly proud of its openness and diversity, and we must not allow those driven by extremism of any sort to destroy that tradition.”