Politicians in the UK are gearing up for next year’s general election. Certain issues are already dividing the battleground, with one issue being proposed as a vote winner by the party in power, the Conservatives. That issue is the scrapping of the loved and loathed Human Rights Act (HRA). Earlier this month, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke at the Conservative Party Conference where he described a soft manifesto. During the speech, he made his intentions quite clear.
Last week, six people were arrested in Portsmouth, Farnborough and Greenwich in dawn raids for Syria-related offences. They included the elderly parents and siblings of British ISIS fighter, Ifthekar Jaman, who died in Syria in December 2013. There has been outrage within the Muslim community that parents were now being targeted and criminalised for the actions of their offspring. Further anti-terrorism raids were carried out days before. Five Muslims, including a medical student, were arrested and charged for “ISIS inspired” attacks in the UK. One of the suspects, Tarik Hassane, was initially arrested for tweeting “Oi lads I smell a war”, while four were charged with downloading a fatwa – a religious edict – issued by ISIS spokesman, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.
Until now, there has remained, a significant brake on new security-related proposals which the current government has waiting in the wings and which increasingly disturb the significant Muslim population in towns and cities across the United Kingdom. Namely, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), of which Britain remains – for now – a signatory. Cameron has now in clear terms announced that a future Tory government would replace the HRA, with a “British Bill of Rights“. This measure is a sop to his own anti-immigration party members who wish to see the UK government – rather than the European parliament – have more control over the laws it implements.
The Conservative party has never been at ease with the HRA to which the UK became a signatory in 1998 under then Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair. From the day it was introduced, it’s been dogged by a ceaseless flow of right wing headlines. So incessant was the “outrage” of the Conservatives and their allies relating to the Act’s implementation in high profile, controversial cases that headlines featuring the phrase “political correctness gone mad” became a staple of parliamentary jargon and a favourite topic for political satirists.
Now it appears the right wing in British politics have found the “hook” they have been seeking with which to sell the repeal of the act to the public – security.
The government’s Syria-related anti-terrorism measures now include: asking Muslim mothers to spy on their children, cracking down on online activities, humanitarian aid workers arrested, bank accounts of Islamic charities closed, last-minute cancellation of Syria awareness events, and Schedule 7 stops at airports. It has become a widespread view amongst many British Muslims that the government is attempting to silence the genuine support for the removal of a brutal dictator by revoking the right to a fair trial and life, the freedom of thought, movement, belief, religion and expression of individuals they believe to be linked to terrorism.
The Chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), Massoud Shadjareh, explained that: “We will see people’s rights being trampled over and more tiers to the system being created where foreign nationals will be discriminated against. Their rights to family life and to be free from torture will be ignored for political capital.”
Media officer for advocacy group CAGE, Amandla Thomas-Johnson, said: “There have been many instances when the Human Rights Act and more specifically recourse to the European Court of Human Rights have protected the rights of individuals such as Abu Qatadah, and for a time, Babar Ahmed. To not have these protections in place will lead to a situation where governments will have the power to abuse people’s rights by sending them to countries that routinely practice torture.”
The truth is that even with the ECHR in place, Muslims arrested on terror charges have faced punitive and unusual measures. Human rights lawyer, Fahad Ansari, said: “For over a decade, we have witnessed various punitive measures imposed on terror suspects where no formal charges have ever been brought against them. Whenever the courts have ruled against the government in these cases, the government has simply legislated for replacement measures which are equally draconian.”
Right-wing and liberal opponents of the HRA
Meanwhile, right wing political parties such as UK Independent Party (UKIP) and theBritish National Party (BNP) are lauding plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. They perceive the Act to be a European influenced protectorate of religious and ethnic minorities, illegal immigrants and “terrorists”.
Lord Alex Carlile of Berriew QC who is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and one of Britain’s top legal experts also backed Cameron’s plans to ditch the HRA. In his 2011 report, Sixth Report of the Independent Reviewer Pursuant to Section 14 (3) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, Lord Carlile mentioned how the HRA had become a “safe haven” for terrorists.
Evidently, the Tories led by Cameron are adamant in binning the HRA in an effort to regain a level of autonomy from the ECHR. This call has received support from other right wing parties, Lib Dem politicians, and will gain more momentum as the alleged terror threat from returning jihadists from Syria is overplayed. These have wide reaching implications which are causing great unease amongst the Muslim community. They should be causing unease for everyone.
With British Tornado jets deployed to Iraq to bomb ISIS targets, the voice of civil rights groups, not only in the UK but across Europe, could be drowned out beneath the drumbeats of war.