End Evil

British Freedom of Speech eroded

A recent UN report has criticised Labour´s Terrorism Act of 2006 and our bizarre libel laws as a breach of human rights.

The Terrorism Act is the worst offender, it is alarmingly vague and grants the police ridiculous powers, on top of allowing detention without charge of a suspected terrorist for 28 days, it also allows a seven year jail term for the offence of "encouragement of terrorism". I think if it takes 28 days to actually find the evidence to charge someone then you probably don´t have grounds to arrest them in the first place but then the plan is to increase this limit to 42 days. As for the offence of "encouragement of terrorism" it is completely open to interpretation and being jailed for something you´ve said sounds horribly like state censorship and no freedom of speech to me.

The libel laws are even more bizarre as they allow wealthy foreigners to sue people in the British court that they couldn´t sue in their own country. Again this is an attack on freedom of speech.

The Official Secrets Act is also used to block former employees of the crown from releasing interesting news to the public. The government can gag the media and keep their dirty little secrets from getting out. Diplomats are now required to commit to never publishing work about their experiences when they retire.

This clamping down on free speech goes hand in hand with their tightening of controls on protest, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005 bans protest without permit within 1km of the British parliament. Several people have been arrested using this piece of legislation including Brian Haw the Iraq war peace campaigner who was satisfyingly decreed to be exempt by a High Court judge.

Then there´s the case of Sean Kirtley, an animal rights activist who ran a website criticising the research firm Sequani Ltd who engage in animal testing. He was jailed for four and half years by a judge who enjoys hunting. He had taken part in protests but always peacefully and the crime he has been sentenced for seems to be no greater than running a website which encouraged others to protest and organising demonstrations.

It seems the government are using fears over terrorism to criminalise dissent in general and while we aren´t locking up bloggers left, right and centre as they are in the Middle East, China and Russia the case of Kirtley is a very worrying precedent.

Posted 15th August 2008

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