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Lola Adesioye, one of our regular columnists, argues against increasing the current detention without charge of suspected terrorists to 56 days in the absence of concrete evidence justifying the move.
Anyone who has travelled through a British airport recently will tell you what a hassle it has become. Having to remove shoes, undo belts, take off jackets, take out (and often discard) liquids, creams and perfumes from hand luggage are just some of the irritations that we now have to endure… I often think to myself that the next counter-terrorism measure will be for all passengers to walk naked through security.
OK, I’m being somewhat flippant here. The point is, however, that we all put up with these nuisances because there is no doubt that terrorism is a serious threat and tough times call for tough measures. With the London bombings of 2005 still fresh in our memories, and in light of recent failed attacks this year in both London and Glasgow, it is essential for the public’s peace of mind as well as the country’s security that the government takes a strong stance on protecting the UK against what is, according to M15, a growing threat “which has yet to reach its peak”.
Gordon Brown is, of course, keen to show that he takes terrorism seriously. The government’s new security plans, unveiled this week, show that he is unwilling to be seen as being soft on the matter. Many of his proposals are sensible: better awareness training for staff who work in public places, increasing the size of the security service and clamping down on those who finance terrorism. These are important measures.
I am not particularly thrilled by the idea of having bags screened and being searched at major railway stations – after all, we are talking about a public transport system that is under enough pressure as it is. But I’m sure the public are willing to put up with some annoyances if it keeps us all safe.
However, what we cannot allow is an erosion of our civil liberties. Behind some of Gordon Brown’s more level headed proposals lurks one highly controversial and politically risky one: the desire to increase detention without charge of suspected terrorists to 56 days. There is, as yet, no evidence which has convinced me that such an extension is necessary in the anti-terrorism fight. Many others, including the Church of England, human rights organization Liberty, and a number of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Party MPs are also unable to find satisfactory justification for it. Even the security minister Lord West seems unable to make up his mind although it’s safe to say that he probably would have stuck to his original assertion that he was not convinced of the need to extend the current limit past 28 days had he not been pressurised into saying otherwise by the Prime Minister.
Britain is already able to hold suspected terrorists without charge for longer than in another democracy. No other democracy, including Spain which itself has been victim of terrorist atrocities, feels the need for such long detention times. We must ask why this is the case if it is so necessary in the fight against terrorism?
Al-Qaeda is not the first terrorist organization which has threatened Great Britain. The IRA carried on a long terrorist campaign against the country, and there are existing emergency laws that can be invoked if necessary.
Should Brown’s plan for increased detention-without-charge limit proceed through parliament, Gordon Brown risks turning the UK into a police state. I am unsure that the terrorist threat is so large that individual freedoms must be lost in favour of state control.
In the midst of our fear and sensitivity about terrorism, its easy to forget that anyone of us can be a suspect. In order to protect the rights of all of us, every suspect – regardless of whether they are under suspicion of terrorism or otherwise – must be treated with equal same rights. We must not open Britain up to becoming a nation that allows human rights abuses and injustices in the name of counter-terrorism. Innocent people who have already been held for 28 days without charge will argue that the current period is already in itself a human rights infringement.
Until there is absolute concrete evidence that a longer detention period is necessary, this law should not be passed through parliament. I hope for all of our sakes that opponents of the plan, both within in and outside the party, resist it strongly. After all, isn’t this loss of rights and freedoms exactly what the terrorists want?
Lola Adesioye uses the power of the positive word, whether written, spoken or sung, as well as a variety of media, to be an agent for social change, uplifting and inspiring the black community.
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