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UK anti-terror proposals threaten a ‘culture of suspicion’ against minorities

9 February 2004

Proposed new legislation to prevent terrorism including part-secret trials of suspected British terrorists, may contribute to an increasing ‘culture of fear and suspicion’ against minorities in the UK and internationally, stated Minority Rights Group International (MRG) today. Reacting to proposed new legislation to lower the burden of proof in order to convict British terror suspects, MRG stated: ‘This is a potential further step towards alienation and demonization of some minority communities, who are the likely targets of this legislation, and who already feel increasingly unfairly condemned as ‘extremist’ by the media and others.’

According to the rights group, Home Secretary David Blunkett’s proposals would contravene international human rights law and basic standards of fair trial, and would represent a dangerous shift towards an authoritarian state, with serious implications for fundamental rights and freedoms. Under the proposed legislation, British and foreign suspects could face part-secret trials in which certain sensitive evidence against them would not have to be disclosed by security services to the accused. The threshold of proof to secure conviction would be dropped from ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to a lower ‘balance of probabilities’, raising serious concerns amongst rights and civil liberties groups about the safety of convictions.

Minority Rights Group International has raised its concerns since it is minority groups that are the likely targets of such legislation and may feel unfairly discriminated against by it. It suggests that the extension of existing anti-terror legislation to include British nationals may also fuel misconceptions that some minorities are an ‘enemy within’ British society in a post 9/11 environment of suspicion. Britain is holding 14 foreign nationals under existing anti-terrorism law, while 9 Britons are currently held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Muslim groups have spoken out about issues including Islamophobia and negative representation and stereotyping in the media, which often portrays them as ‘radical’, ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘extremist’. The fact that it is largely Muslims who are being held without trial may lead to perceptions of wider British Muslim involvement in terror activities, despite the fact that none have yet been convicted of any crime.

Director of Minority Rights Group International, Mark Lattimer, stated: ‘It is by maintaining our high standards of law in Britain that we ensure the confidence and respect of all members of society, both minority and majority. We must double our efforts to hold to account those few who would threaten or commit terror, not lower our standards and risk unfair and unsafe convictions. To do so weakens the law and society’s trust in it, will alienate certain communities and results in a culture of fear and suspicion.’

Minority Rights Group International has drawn attention to the grave implications of the ‘war on terror’ and similar anti-terror legislation on minorities in numerous countries with poor records on minority rights, such as Turkey, China and Egypt. Some countries have used anti-terror legislation as a means to crack down on religious minorities or political opponents, and in EU countries such as France, bans on religious symbols such as the hijab, have been called for as a precaution against ‘fundamentalism’. MRG are concerned that anti-terror legislation will further be used as a means to restrict legitimate rights of the nationals of some states to immigration and asylum in the UK on the grounds of national security, failing to take into account real dangers facing minorities and indigenous peoples in some states.

MRG calls on Home Secretary David Blunkett to uphold the rule of law and ensure international standards of fair trial for all members of society.

Download MRG’s report ‘Muslims in Britain