Terrorism Act violated journalists human rights

A UK court of appeal ruled that the detention of journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, under the Terrorism Act violated his human rights as a journalist. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/19/journalism-is-not-terrorism-criticism-of-the-government-is-not-violence?CMP=share_btn_link The court rebuked the government’s unprecedented and dangerous definition of “terrorism” that would have encompassed all sorts of actions regularly made by law-abiding citizens.

The court overruled a part of a prior ruling, making clear that “the stop power [under the Terrorism Act], if used in respect of journalistic information or material is incompatible” with the European convention on human rights.

As Greenwald has already said, the court ruling is “an enormous victory, first and foremost for press freedoms, because what the court ruled is that the UK parliament can’t purport to allow its police to seize whatever they want to take from journalists by pretending it’s a terrorism investigation”.

He’s exactly right: journalists, or anyone working on behalf of newspapers for that matter, should not be worried about being detained, interrogated and having their source material confiscated for doing their job in a democracy.

But even more disturbing than the UK government’s willingness to detain a journalist in violation of his human rights is what they attempted to claim after Miranda’s detention to justify their actions. In arguing that they had every right to detain Miranda under the Terrorism Act in 2013, the government put forth a the radical and expansive definition of terrorism. Here is the government’s exact words from a court filing they made in November 2013:

Additionally the disclosure [of NSA/GCHQ documents], or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism…

Think about the implications of that for a minute: terrorism was defined as publishing information designed to influence the government. That definition includes no mention of violence or even a threat of violence, which David Miranda never came anywhere near doing.

In other words, any opinion or action the government does not like could potentially have been decreed as “terrorism” under their warped definition.

This type of sweeping authorization is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes, like Saudi Arabia and Russia, who regularly distort laws supposedly passed in the name of fighting terrorism to harass and detain journalists, human rights workers and dissidents. It’s also a practice that that the UK and US have spoken out repeatedly against in the last decade.

(Back in 2013 the Guardian asked the US State Department to comment on the UK’s arrest of Miranda, but they declined, despite harshly criticizing other countries for using their terrorism laws in virtually the same way.)

Thankfully, the appeals court wholly dismissed this dangerous definition of “terrorism,” writing: “The court of appeal ruling rejects the broad definition of terrorism advanced by government lawyers. The correct legal definition of terrorism, the court of appeal has now ruled, requires some intention to cause a serious threat to public safety such as endangering life”.

This episode shines a light on how unjust the Terrorism Act is to everyone who travels through London’s airport. It should be noted that the UK government’s own independent reviewer of terrorism legislation made clear that, despite the Terrorism Act’s name, the government declares the “power to stop and question [under the law] may be exercised without suspicion of involvement in terrorism”. We also know that thousands of innocent people have been subjected to similar types of detainment in the past with almost no recourse afterwards.

 

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