Prague, 10 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The parliament's refusal to approve the 90-day detention law shows that, for the moment at least, British lawmakers feel there are enough legal tools in hand to fight terrorism.
Analysts say there has been mounting unease among the British public that the hunt for terrorists is being driven forward at
the expense of civil liberties built up in Britain over centuries.
The bill contains other controversial provisions, such as outlawing the
"glorification" of terrorism -- a vague term that rights activists see
as an infringement on free speech.
For instance, the maximum precharge detention time for murder suspects in the U.K. is four days, but for terror suspects it
has been progressively extended. And yesterday it was doubled from 14 days to 28 days.
For this reason, a spokesman for the London-based Amnesty International rights group, Livio Zilli, says yesterday's vote
was actually a "capitulation."
"As far as human rights are concerned, as far as civil liberties in this country are concerned, yesterday's defeat was to an extent a pyrrhic victory for human rights, given that the 28-day extension was passed [instead]," Zilli said.
Blair had argued that British police and public opinion were solidly behind his 90-day detention proposal. He vigorously
defended the draft law in a personal appeal to lawmakers before the vote: "We are not living in a police state, but we are living in a country that faces a real and serious threat of terrorism, terrorism that wants to destroy our way of life, terrorism that wants to inflict casualties on us without limit."
But his appeal fell on deaf ears, and he went on to suffer his first parliamentary defeat since taking office in 1997.
But the 90-day detention proposal is only a small part of a larger antiterrorism bill that is making its way through parliament. The bill contains other controversial provisions, such as outlawing the "glorification" of terrorism -- a vague term that rights activists see as an infringement on free speech.
Zilli is critical of the package as a whole: [It's] ill conceived, draconian, dangerous. Yes, I think the government will clearly get a rough ride [when the bill reaches] the House of Lords, particularly in respect to provisions which so fundamentally undermine freedom of association [and] freedom of expression."
Another human rights group, the London-based Liberty, is concerned that the situation could further inflame racial tensions in Britain. Spokeswoman Jen Corlew said: "If the 90-day detentions [law] had passed, it would have had a very severe and negative impact on community relations in the U.K. We were concerned about the people that would have been targeted under this bill, and frankly we believe the police already have extensive powers, and that there are more proportionate ways in which they could gain more powers to deal with the threat of terrorism in the U.K."
The Islamic Human Rights Commission of Britain said today that the British government's new laws could create a backlash of violence, such as that which has occurred in France over the last two weeks.
Commission chairman Massoud Shadjareh says that "what may happen here, as in France, is a sense of growing alienation of Muslims who feel excluded from mainstream society, and that could be very dangerous."