The Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, which has been monitoring the effect of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act on migrant and refugee communities, is calling for opponents of the Act to sign a statement against the legislation.
The group is also preparing a submission to the Committee of Privy Counsellors which is reviewing the Act and will report in December 2003. The all-party Committee’s task is to review the implementation of the Act since it came into force in December 2001.
Key points from the campaign statement
- The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA) is dependent on the Terrorism Act 2000, which broadened the definition of terrorism and activities connected with terrorism. Twenty-one organisations were banned, many of which were rooted in community organisations. Support of and association with such groups has been outlawed. The ATCSA also empowers the authorities to seize property or cash and to freeze bank accounts in cases where ‘terrorist’ purposes are suspected. These powers have been used to target ethnic minority businesses, organisations and charities, especially in Muslim communities.
- Police powers of arrest and detention could be used on suspicion that someone might be involved in ‘terrorism’. Any foreign national can be detained for an indefinite period without charge or trial in cases where the person has suspected ‘links’ with an international terrorist group (but cannot be safely deported to their own country). Several Muslim people have been interned since December 2001. They are being held solely on the basis of ‘suspicion’ by the security services, who rely on secret intelligence which is never disclosed to the internee or his lawyer.
- Internees are denied elementary rights. They can appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) but this does not provide the safeguards of a criminal trial: presumption of innocence, requirement that the state prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, rules of evidence and opportunity to test the case against them. The SIAC only judges whether the home secretary has reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is linked to ‘international terrorism’. Internment under the ATCSA is thus an extreme case of a more general tendency: to use immigration law for detaining, stigmatising and terrorising foreign nationals accused of no crime.
- Anti-terrorist policing powers are being used to criminalise ethnic minority communities, especially Muslims. Communal, friendship and political networks are stigmatised as ‘suspected’ terrorist networks. A few dozen arrests, with just a few prosecutions, have effectively intimidated entire communities. The mere act of arrest can undermine a person’s reputation, livelihood and freedom to travel. People feel that they live in a state of siege, as populist prejudice is whipped up against them.
- Despite all the scares (such as the ‘threatened’ poison gas attack on the tube and the tanks being sent to Heathrow), no prosecution case has presented clear evidence of plans for organised violence here. For example, in a blaze of publicity, two Algerian brothers, Mouloud Feddag and Samir Feddag, were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 in January 2003 with five others and charged under section 57 – the possession of articles for terrorist purposes. Traces of the poison ricin were reported to have been found and then were connected by the media to an alleged plot to use this poison. Earlier this month, the two brothers were jailed – but only for the possession of false passports; there was no mention of terrorism. Ordinarily such character assassination in the media would be treated as contempt of court.