Monday, October 03, 2005

Some current uses of UK anti-terror laws...

"If you've nothing to hide, then you've nothing to fear" runs the popular, logically-suspect response to those who worry over the civil liberties implications of the current raft of new powers that have been awarded to police recently. This argument is, of course, as spurious as it is superficially rhetorically appealing; we should therefore be grateful that the UK force seems intent on doing its utmost to demonstrate this by making use of their new powers in situations that can only be described as absurd.

Tony Blair cannot have been pleased, for example, to learn that the public relations nightmare that surrounded the ejection of an octogenarian from the recent Labour Party Conference, for heckling the Prime Minister over Iraq, was to be made worse by the police reaction to his attempts to return to the conference hall. They detained him under the "stop and search" powers of the Terrorism Act of 2000; this, of course, was "intended" to allow police to detain suspected terrorists for the purpose of searching them. It was used, however, to stop an eighty year-old Labour Party member from gaining access to the Party Conference.

The Guardian reports also that another elderly protester was stopped, and searched, under the Terrorism Act. He was apparently wearing a T-shirt proclaiming that Bush, Blair and Sharon were leaders of "Rogue States" (an idea proposed by Chomsky, amongst others), and demanding that they be tried for war crimes. Police records indicate, apparently, that the grounds for intervening were given as "carrying placard and t-shirt with anti-Blair info", the "purpose" of the search being, quite simply, "terrorism". We really need no reductio here in order to arrive at the absurdum.

Of course, neither man was arrested following their brush with anti-terror laws; this, however, is beside the point. It remains abundantly clear that the police are prepared to use these powers in order to control, frustrate and intimidate those who seek to make their voices heard in exercising basic political rights. And this is a dangerous game; as, the more difficult and ineffective peaceful protest becomes, the more appealing - and legitimate - other methods of making a point inevitably appear.

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