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Ear to the Ground

The U.K. ‘Can’t Tell Its Terrorists From Its Journalists’

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Posted on Mar 14, 2014

Photo by bulliver (CC BY 2.0)

Sarah Harrison, an editor at WikiLeaks who has also worked with NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, won’t return to her home country of England because she fears prosecution under terrorism laws for seeking to influence her government.

Harrison’s fear comes straight out of the language of the U.K. Terrorism Act of 2000. Writing in The Guardian, Harrison reports the act defines terrorism as “the use or threat of action [...] designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation” or which “is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” or “is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.” Elsewhere the act defines “government” as the government of any country, including the United States.

Britain has used this act to open a terrorist investigation against the journalists who used Snowden as a source, Harrison says. The detention and interrogation last summer of David Miranda, the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, in which Miranda was forced to answer questions related to Greenwald’s work and hand over documents, proves this, she argues. When Miranda brought a legal case against the British government’s use of Schedule 7 of the act, a court ruled that the law was fairly applied, ignoring “the well-defined protections for freedom of expression in the European convention on human rights,” Harrison writes.

“If Britain is going to investigate journalists as terrorists take and destroy our documents, force us to give up passwords and answer questions—how can we be sure we can protect our sources?” she asks. “But this precedent is now set; no journalist can be certain that if they leave, enter or transit through the UK this will not happen to them. My lawyers advise me not to return home.”

Indeed, Harrison continues, “Schedule 7 is not really about catching terrorists. … It is now decreed by our courts that it is acceptable to interfere with the freedom of the press, based on a hunch. … This act—it is now crystal clear—is being consciously and strategically deployed to threaten journalists. It has become a tool for securing the darkness behind which our government can construct a brand new, 21st-century Big Brother.”

“From my refuge in Berlin,” she says, “this reeks of adopting Germany’s past, rather than its future. I have thought about the extent to which British history would have been the poorer had the governments of the day had such an abusive instrument at their disposal. What would have happened to all the public campaigns carried out in an attempt to ‘influence the government’? I can see the suffragettes fighting for their right to vote being threatened into inaction, Jarrow marchers being labelled terrorists, and Dickens being locked up in Newgate prison.”

By following these policies, British authorities have made themselves every bit as dangerous to the British people as the real or imagined threat of terrorism, Harrison concludes.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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