Mixed reaction to UK anti-terror steps

Human rights experts and a radical Islamic group have blasted a raft of new powers to combat terrorism in Britain unveiled by Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday, while mainstream Muslims applauded them.

Drawn up in the wake of the London bombings, the measures include a possible review of human rights laws, the banning of certain hard-line Islamic groups and tougher rules to deport foreign nationals linked to terrorism.

Britain is also seeking to strike deals with Algeria, Lebanon and several other countries to allow it to deport their nationals without fear of mistreatment after concluding such an accord with Jordan last month.

London-based human rights group Liberty condemned the move.

“Shuffling people off around the globe is not an answer to national or world security,” said Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, after Blair announced the proposals during a pre-holiday press conference.

“You do not deport people to places where they would face torture, and self-serving agreements and statements by governments that are not democratic are not going to cut it,” she told BBC radio.

“People who incite terrorism can and should be prosecuted, but to move into the realms of condoning or justifying terrorism, undergraduate conversations [or] political discussions, is very dangerous,” Chakrabarti said.

“It is how we begin to shut down the very democracy that we say we are seeking to defend.”

Similarly, a plan to outlaw the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain was slammed as “most unjust” by a spokesperson for the organisation.

“Hizb ut-Tahrir is a non-violent political party,” said its spokesperson, Imran Waheed.

“It has had a history of non-violence for the last 50 years and these measures are like what we have seen in Uzbekistan where President [Islam] Karimov has been burning his political opponents alive,” he said.

Waheed appeared to be referring to a military crackdown that claimed several hundred lives in eastern Uzbekistan in May, which the Uzbek government said was a response to a plot by Hizb ut-Tahrir to seize power in the country.

“Our members are all for political expression, not for violence,” said the spokesperson.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Islamic Liberation, is a Sunni movement founded in the Middle East in the 1950s.

It established itself in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia 10 years ago and reportedly wants to create an Islamic state in the region.

Russia’s Supreme Court classified the group as a “terrorist” organisation in February 2003. It is, however, legal in most Western countries, though Germany has imposed a ban due to the group’s anti-Semitism.

In contrast to the negative comments sparked by Blair’s tough measures, two mainstream British Muslim groups largely welcomed them, noting that rules to counter the threat of foreign extremists were long overdue.

“We are frustrated to the bone with some of these people in the name of our great religion, in the name of our way of life, going day after day and causing damage to our way of life here,” Omar Farooq of the Islamic Society of Britain told BBC Radio.

Similarly, Inayat Banglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain gave a thumbs-up to many of Blair’s proposals.

“Some of the measures are quite sensible and are perhaps overdue,” he said, while noting that the council will seek assurances from the government that expressions of support for Muslims overseas, such as the Palestinians or the Chechens, will not be outlawed.

At the same time, both Banglawala and Farooq warned against banning Hizb ut-Tahrir. Farooq said the group has been growing weaker and its new-found notoriety may boost its appeal.—Sapa-AFP

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