Tue, Feb 08, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Rights groups condemn proposed UK anti-terror laws

SECURITY Draft legislation that would allow indefinite detention of suspects prompted comparisons between the Blair government and the regimes of China and North Korea


British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government stands accused of going down the road toward a police state following proposed new anti-terror laws which have prompted comparisons with repressive regimes such as Myanmar.

The row erupted late last month, when Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced a series of planned changes to the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, passed following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

That law allowed foreign nationals suspected of terrorism offences who refused to be deported to be detained indefinitely without trial, solely on the word of the home secretary.

Slammed by rights groups as creating "Britain's Guantanamo Bay," after the US center for terror suspects in Cuba, late last year the Law Lords, the UK's top court of appeal, ruled that the measure broke human rights obligations.

In response, Clarke announced on Jan. 26 that 12 detained foreign suspects would gradually be freed.

However, under a planned change to the law they could instead be placed under "control orders," including indefinite house arrest, electronic tagging or curfews, again on the say-so of the home secretary.

The new proposals, which have yet to reach the statute books, have prompted further ire from rights groups, who point out that indefinite house arrest without trial is usually only practised by despotic regimes such as Myanmar, also known as Burma, China and North Korea.

Louise Christian, a lawyer representing several of the detainees held under the 2001 law, has been scathing, calling the new proposals "the kind of measures aimed at people like Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma."

"This a glimpse of the terrifying future where everyone may be subjected to detention on the basis of secret intelligence and a politician's whim," said Shami Chakrabarti, head of the civil liberties campaign organization Liberty.

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