Sunday, 24 August 2014

Censorship or Protecting Society?

A few days ago I read of approved plans by the Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to introduce three new terrorist offences in the south of Ireland. These new offences are said to be designed to further crack down on home-grown terrorism. The new offences will be...

1. Public provocation to commit a terrorist offence.
2. Recruitment for terrorism and
3. Training for terrorism.

In a recent statement the Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald had this to say:

We stand with our European colleagues in doing everything in our power to ensure that there are no gaps in our law that can be exploited by those who would inflict terror and mayhem on innocent people at home or abroad. There can be no hiding place in democratic society for those who encourage, recruit or train others to carry out acts of terrorism and we must never relent in our determination to use all resources at our disposal to root them out.”

In Britain Home secretary Theresa May is to announce a three-tier plan to tackle Islamic extremism. Currently under consideration are proposals to:

    1.Ban groups deemed to be extremist.
    2.Civil court injunctions – dubbed "Asbos for terrorists" – this is aimed at stopping extremists trying to recruit or influence others.
    3.Curtailing the word of radical preachers who currently exercise their right to free speech without breaking any laws.
These proposals also include banning any organisations believed to be kindling or supporting terrorism.

The element of the new legislation which particularly concerns me is the provocation offence in the South of Ireland and in Britain the proposal to curtail free speech. The suggestion by both governments is that anyone, who distributes or communicates a message to the public that could be considered as influencing or encouraging terrorist activity will face prosecution under this new legislation despite the lack of clarity and ambiguity surrounding these new and proposed measures.

Over the past few years I have spoken out on a human rights basis about the treatment of prisoners including Republican prisoners. I was involved in a high profile campaign to Free Marian McGlinchey who was charged with, and later pleaded guilty to encouraging support for an illegal organisation. What is of the utmost concern to me is under this new law could I have been considered guilty of indirectly encouraging support or sympathy for those accused of encouraging support for an illegal organisation? That may seem convoluted but where will the Free State and British Governments draw the line? Will someone protesting against strip searching of a family member in Maghaberry be considered to be supporting an illegal organisation?

With the increase in support for the people of Palestine will this solidarity be viewed as encouraging support for terrorism or influencing others? As the democratically elected Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation?

From the outset we must demand clarity on these issues as the more cynical side of me questions if these laws are to prevent freedom of speech on a broader range of issues including human rights abuses.

Another very worrying aspect of this situation is in relation to the use of of social media and the internet to highlight human rights abuses and circumvent government censorship and media manipulation. Bloggers in Egypt were directly targeted by the authorities for exposing human rights abuses and not forgetting the recent case of three Al Jazeera reporters sentenced to seven years in prison in Egypt.

The family of one of the convicted reporters called the sentences"a slap in the face for freedom of speech". The British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "completely appalled" by the verdicts. Oddly the words kettle, pot & black spring to mind when I think of this 'Etonian' who was a member young Tory's, a group which infamously called for Nelson Mandela to be hanged, and not forgetting Sir Teddy Taylor a leading Margatet Thatcher supporter also said Mandela should be shot.

What must also be asked is, if it is found that you shared a statement on the internet which is later regarded provocative can you be charged with provocation to commit a terrorist offence? Or if some one decides to tag you in a statement deemed 'provocative' on Facebook can you be charged with influencing or indirectly encouraging terrorism?

Whilst I may appear flippant I must stress that as a social justice campaigner my concerns are genuine as in reality these laws and the proposed changes in Britain bring a whole new meaning to choosing your associates and battles carefully for fear of being accused of indirectly provoking a terrorist offence or influencing others. Then again that could be the method behind the madness to instil fear into anyone who would raise concerns about the conduct of a government by them being potentially labelled a 'terrorist' supporter or sympathiser.

In terms of changes to the Irish legislation the only thing clearly stated is that this law will include public statements and interviews from dissident leaders which would seem to cover commemorations and suggest blanket censorship of those considered dissidents.

Am I right in thinking that members of the press reporting on an event or rally organised so called dissidents may also be charged with the provocation offence for their role in distributing or communicating a message to the public which may or may not directly or indirectly influence or encourage someone to commit a terrorist offence? It would seem that although Dublin & London are thousands of miles geographically away from Cairo, in terms of quelling political opposition they seem to be on the same page.

As we come closer to the centenary of the Easter Rising will the political leaders in Ireland who read from the Proclamation be accused of public provocation to commit a terrorist offence as the Proclamation asserts the right of Irish citizens to use arms as a means of resistance?

In contrast lets look at the ongoing fiasco at Shannon Airport which has included the arrest of Dail Eireann representatives Clare Daly andMick Wallace. It would be reasonable to suggest that the Irish Government are guilty or at least complicit in supporting and fuelling terrorism with it permitting the fuelling of rendition flights, something even Amnesty International has raised concerns about. After all rendition is the process of covertly sending suspects to be interrogated to a country with less rigorous human rights legislation.

There is a sad irony to this when you consider it was the Irish Government who took the British government to the European Court of Human Rights over the treatment of the 'hooded men' who were brutalised at a secret location whilst held captive by the British state in Ireland in 1971.

In 1978, the European Court overturned the initial finding of torture and ruled that the treatment of the 'hooded men' amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment, but did not constitute torture, although it is worth noting that new evidence that has been discovered proved that not only did the British Government admit it was torture, they actually lied to the European Court.

The actions of the British Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday in 1972 saw an increase in support for the IRA. So could it be argued that the actions of the Irish state in allowing Shannon airport to be used for rendition flights may in return encourage support for insurgent groups in other lands?

There are some who would argue that the actions of British troops abroad are leading to an increase in extremism in Britain, which is no attempt on my part to justify or dismiss the seriousness of any threat. Maybe both governments should take time to look at these situations objectively and in doing so accept responsibility for their influence and the part they play directly and indirectly in these situations. 

Maybe the British & Irish Governments should consider the actions of their allies, but I doubt the Irish Government will prosecute itself for supporting terrorism, or the British Government will stop allowing CIA rendition flights, but then again the files on the role the British Government played in rendition flights were conveniently destroyed due to water damage. Convenience or cover up? 

I'll leave you to make your own minds up on that one.

Whilst on the subject of taking responsibility for actions maybe both governments could also examine their failure to address the issue of financial terrorism at the hands of the bankers? The severity of the impact of their actions should never be underestimated, yet bankers are still rewarded with huge bonuses and not criminal convictions.

If you are resident in the North of Ireland and at this point have considered writing to your local Stormont representative to voice concerns then my suggestion would be not to bother as in this situation as with most our political leaders are as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

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