26. The Committee notes with concern that the offence of “encouragement of terrorism” has been defined in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 in broad and vague terms. In particular, a person can commit the offence even when he or she did not intend members of the public to be directly or indirectly encouraged by his or her statement to commit acts of terrorism, but where his or her statement was understood by some members of the public as encouragement to commit such acts. (art.19)
The State party should consider amending section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 dealing with “encouragement of terrorism” so that its application does not lead to a disproportionate interference with freedom of expression.
It is what follows – and the entire thrust of the law - that is questionable. First, the law: If you possess dodgy material, it is for you to explain why. Parliament could have legislated the other way around - it could have made it a crime to possess such material “with intent”. But it didn’t, so now you must prove yourself innocent.
Following Mr Sabir’s release, the police wrote to him. Allegedly, they warn that he risks re-arrest if found with the manual again and add: “The university authorities have now made clear that possession of this material is not required for the purpose of your course of study nor do they consider it legitimate for you to possess it for research purposes.” [...]
What the Police appear to be saying is that you can be given the all-clear as a bona fide researcher of terror material in the morning – then re-arrested the same evening for the same offence. Surely not, one might think, but that possibility is within the bounds of the Law.
It doesn’t help that the list of materials that could assist a terrorist is very wide. It would certainly encompass broad swathes of chemistry, physics and biology – as well as current military training. This has therefore provoked the accusation, in some quarters, that the Act is likely to be applied in a selective and racist fashion – with individuals whose skin is not quite white being far more likely to be asked to justify what is on their bookshelves or hard drive.
There is no law in this country that prevents people from taking photographs in public. None the less, Amateur Photographer magazine receives dozens of reports per month from readers who have been stopped and searched by police officers who seem to think otherwise. 'Sadly, many amateurs are not aware of their rights and are resigned to their fate,' says the magazine's news editor Chris Cheesman. 'Once they are stopped, and their name taken, the police have a record. And we only hear about those who are prepared to kick up a stink about it - there are sure to be many others that go unreported.' [...]
Vague laws being enforced by inexperienced officers makes for a dangerous combination. But while officers can be given clearer directives and stricter guidelines, it might be harder to calm the fears of an increasingly sensitive general public. 'I think the public are suspicious of people with cameras and the police sympathise with them,' says Stephen Carroll.
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