Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 171-179)


31 OCTOBER 2005

  Q171 Chairman: We are now in the third session of this afternoon with Mr Abdurahman Jafar from the Muslim Council of Britain. Could I first of all start by thanking you for coming at short notice and staying later than we originally expected, but it has been a very interesting section and it has taken us a bit longer to get through than we thought it would. We have seen the memorandum called Protect our Rights which is put forward by an umbrella group of organisations, including yours, but obviously that was before the Terrorism Bill was published, so things have moved on a little since then. Could I start by asking you, first of all, whether you think the Government has sought to engage and consult the Muslim community about what it is doing, what you think the dangers are within the legislation in terms of it being potentially counter-productive towards community relations particularly affecting the Muslim community?

  Mr Jafar: There has been engagement. Whether the direction of that engagement has been the correct direction many question. Many Muslims question whether the engagement has been fruitful, whether there has been real substantive progress as a result of that engagement as well. It has been helpful, of course, but many people feel that more could have and should have been done. With regards to the measures being counter-productive, over the past five years there have been four separate counter-terror provisions and the disproportionate number of those who have been end users of these provisions have been Muslims. Recent British Transport Police figures show that since 7/7 until October of this year there have been over 7,000 stop and searches of which over 50 per cent were Muslims. That is a fairer proportion when one considers the number of Muslims who have made up the 900 or so people who were arrested under the 2000 Act since 9/11, where a vast proportion of those arrested and de-arrested and found completely innocent were Muslims. Disproportionality is a very big issue, and there is another dimension that this Act now threatens to bring in which adds to the potential for being counter-productive. Whereas previously counter-terror measures were directed to prevent terrorism in this country, there was a universal acceptance that this was necessary. There was no argument at all, or no legitimate one within the community, or one that was tolerated, that any acts or forms of terrorism within this country could or should take place, and there has been a very firm commitment since 7/7 that there was an increased need for the community to act in unison with everyone else to ensure that these kind of horrors do not happen again. This Bill now brings and threatens to confuse that clarity or focus that the Muslim community had, whereas previously, as I have mentioned, it was about protecting the UK. Now what this Bill does is threaten to conflate the issue of illegitimate attacks against peaceful democracies with legitimate acts of resistance against illegitimate regimes around the world—one cannot oppose Uzbekistan with peaceful means. If you do you get boiled to death—and to say that to support forms of resistance against genocide or forms of resistance against foreign domination, this is in contravention of international law, the universal declaration of unanimous rights, the preamble, makes it perfectly clear that there is a need for man to rebel against tyranny and oppression. The Geneva Convention 1977 amendment makes it perfectly clear not only do people have a right to resist, with armed use, illegal occupation but other states have a duty and a responsibility to assist that. On the one hand you have Muslims, who make up around 80 per cent of the world's refugees according to UNHCR figures. They are extremely concerned about international issues, and oppression does seem to be, again, a disproportionate reality of what is happening in a Muslim world, and to say that you are no longer allowed to express opposition to this form of agrarius human rights violations and to say that if you do you equate it with supporting what happened on 7/7 threatens the debate that is happening within the Muslim world. We as Muslims are coming to terms now with a secular democracy, not just as a mid-way but as an end to what we as Muslims want to achieve. It is not about having exclusive state, it is about living with universal principles. This is a very important debate that is happening within the Muslim world and this is threatening to curtail and divert that very important debate. I think that is a really horrific counter-productive effect of this new route that the Bill is going towards.

  Q172  Chairman: Which particular measures that are being proposed now more generally do you think carry the greatest risk of being counter-productive?

  Mr Jafar: The "glorification", "incitement" of terrorism, "acts preparatory", the MCB does not in principle oppose, because they harm national security and it may be an issue of national interest that this island is not used in order to further acts abroad which are violent—that is a national interest issue—but with regards to freedom of expression that will be curtailed as a result of clause one. The 90-day extension is extremely worrying. One of the reasons why Lord Carlile accepted that in principle (with the eight safeguards) was, I believe, evidence from Peter Clarke where he said in 2000 an Algerian named Mohammed Megeurba was arrested, and we have just found out that his fingerprints were on the ricin recipe. The proposition he was propounding was that if we had had these powers then he would have been detained for 90 days and we could have found the fingerprints, but that is the equivalent of saying all of these 900 people who have been arrested should have been detained for 90 days. In 2000 Mohammed Megeurba was released—there was no evidence that he had committed a crime—and he is no different from the other 900 people who were wrongly arrested under the Terrorism Act. Giving this 90-day extension would be seen by the community as internment similar to that which was suffered by the Irish community, and that increased support for Irish nationalism, it increased the oxygen that was available to terrorist cells, and I fear that that is a possible outcome of the extension.

  Q173  Lord Lester of Herne Hill: The glorification of terrorism. If hypothetically someone goes on British television immediately after 7 July and glorifies, praises the bombings or, to take more recent examples, praises the bombings in Hedera in Israel on the ground that Israel is in illegal occupation of Palestine, or praises the bombings on the market in Delhi on the ground that India is against Kashmiri rights—suppose that in those situations that happens—should that be a crime?

  Mr Jafar: The thing is, with inventive and creative prosecutory exercise, they could already be framed as crimes as such. The conviction of Faisal in the Court of Appeal recently under the Offences of the Persons Act is one example of a good, creative prosecutory judgment.

  Q174  Lord Lester of Herne Hill: But suppose the Government and Parliament decided to put the matter beyond doubt by having a new offence, and I understand your objections to the way it is phrased in clause one, but do you think that could be saved and be compatible with human rights if the definition were narrowed, made clearer and there were specific intent, or is your position that it cannot be saved and therefore should be rejected?

  Mr Jafar: If it was made very clear that the nihilistic perversion of Islam that created 9/11 or 7/7 were to be criminalised and that legitimate resistant movements would not be, then I see no objection to that. There is a universal agreement that what happened on 9/11, 7/7 are completely wrong—that is a view within Islam and outside Islam—but I believe there is a way in which that could be separated from supporting legitimate acts of resistance against oppression. I do not know what they are. I do know that that Article 5 of the European . . . .

  Q175  Lord Lester of Herne Hill: The European Convention?

  Mr Jafar: No, I am sorry. Clause one is intended to bring into effect the Article 5 of the . . . .

  Q176  Lord Lester of Herne Hill: The European Convention for the Prevention of Terrorism?

  Mr Jafar: Yes, the prevention of terrorism. I know that our threshold is a lot lower. Acts of violence against a person are very different from what the European Convention says. It talks about disruption to politics, to society, et cetera. I think there could be clarity as well in defining exactly what terrorism is. The European Convention, I believe, has a different definition as well.

  Q177  Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am sorry to press you, but you have not answered my question about specific intent. Would the Muslim Council of Britain regard it as necessary that there be a deliberate intention of glorifying or instigating terrorism or not?

  Mr Jafar: Completely. That is in accordance with the European Convention.

  Q178  Lord Lester of Herne Hill: How do you draw the line between what you were saying to us now, which is that it would be right to criminalise, I think you called it, the perversion of Islam on the one hand and other ideologies on the other where armed struggles are being advocated? I do not see how, speaking for myself, how the criminal law could draw such line, but does the Muslim Council have suggestions as to how that might be done, because it seems to me that what you call the perversion of Islam some people might regard as not the perversion of Islam, and political Islam and religious Islam, one can imagine all kinds of terrible controversies. How can you possibly in law make a definition of a bright line separating one from the other?

  Mr Jafar: There could be a clause which excludes support for legitimate resistance movements as an exclusion.

  Q179  Chairman: Are you saying, for example, there is a difference between the bombing of Woburn Place, the bomb in the market place in Jerusalem and the bomb in the market place in Delhi?

  Mr Jafar: That is the crux of the problem. Maybe you cannot legally separate those.

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