New EU law on terrorism to cover protest and dissent?


EU to adopt new laws on terrorism: definition of "terrorism" to cover groups with the aim of "seriously altering... the political, economic or social structure" of one or more countries and their institutions and includes "urban violence"

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In the wake of the tragic events in the USA the European Commission is to present a proposal for a "Framework Decision on combating terrorism" to the special meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Brussels on 20 September. Any decisions are likely to be confirmed by the special EU Summit (Prime Ministers) on 21 September. The Commission has also drafted a proposal on "the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between the Member States".

Proposed Framework Decision on combating terrorism

The European Commission proposal for a Framework Decision to combat terrorism is intended to put in place a definition of terrorism, penalties and sanctions, extradition procedures and mechanisms for exchanging information.

The key provision is the one defining terrorist offences (Article 3) which says, each Member State according to its national law shall ensure that:

"the following offences.. which are intentionally committed by an individual or a group against one or more countries, their institutions or people with the aim of intimidating them and seriously altering or destroying the political, economic or social structures of those countries will be punishable as terrorist offences"

It then sets out these offences (and penalties "maximum penalty not less than" in Article 5) as:

(a) Murder (20 years)
(b) Bodily injuries (4 years)
(c) Kidnapping or hostage taking (10 years)
(d) Extortion (2 years)
(e) Theft or robbery (2 years)
(f) Unlawful seizure of or damage to state or government facilities, means of public transport, infrastructure facilities, places of public use, and property (5 years)
(g) Fabrication, possession, acquisition, transport or supply of weapons or explosives (10 years)
(h) Releasing contaminating substances, or causing fires, explosions or floods, endangering people, property, animals or the environment (10 years)
(i) Interfering with or disrupting the supply of water, power or other fundamental resource (10 years)
(j) Attacks through interference with an information system (5 years)
(k) Threatening to commit any of the offences listed above (2 years)
(l) Directing a terrorist group (15 years)
(m) Promoting of, supporting of or participation in a terrorist group (7 years)

Article 4 extends the definition to include "instigating, aiding, abetting or attempting to commit a terrorist offence".

In addition Article 5.3 adds "alternative sanctions such as community service, limitation of certain civil or political rights" and 5.4. provides for fines.

Terrorism to include "acts of urban violence"

The question that arises from this proposal to combat terrorism is whether it is solely intended to "combat terrorism" or does it have a wider purpose? Is it the intention to extend the definition of "terrorism" to cover demonstrations, protests and political dissent as well?

The breadth of the definition is surprising if the proposal is intended to only combat terrorism.

1) The inclusion of the term "seriously altering.. the political, economic or social structures" by "an individual or group" suggests a wider purpose is intended;

2) The inclusion in Article 3.f. of the "Unlawful seizure of or damage to state or government facilities, means of public transport, infrastructure facilities, places of public use, and property" (property covers public and private) could embrace a wide range of demonstration and protests - ranging from the non-violent Greenham Common Womens protests against a US Cruise missile base in the UK to the protests in Genoa;

3) The phrase in Article 3.h.: "endangering people, property, animals or the environment" could refer, for example, to animal right protests;

4) The inclusion in the "Penalties and sanctions" Article 5 of "community service, limitation of certain civil and political rights" and of fines suggests that the proposal might have a wider objective than dealing with terrorism. The seemingly soft end of the sentences and the deprivation of rights could see demonstrators being charged as "terrorists" and, for example, losing their vote.

The answer to these questions is spelt out in the "Explanatory Memorandum" accompanying the proposal. It says that Article 3 defining terrorist offences:

"could include, for instance, urban violence"

This would appear to confirm that the intention is to extend the definition of "terrorism" to cover public order situations.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"The response of the EU to the tragic events in the US needs to be examined with great care. The definition of terrorism is very similar in its scope to the UK Terrorism Act which is drawn so wide as to endanger legitimate dissent.

The European Commission proposal on combating terrorism is either very badly drafted, or there is a deliberate attempt to broaden the concept of terrorism to cover protests (such as those in Gothenburg and Genoa) and what it calls "urban violence" (often seen by local communities as self-defence). If it is intended to slip in by the back door draconian measures to control political dissent it will only serve to undermine the very freedoms and democracies legislators say they are protecting"

Proposed Framework Decision on combating terrorism: Full-text (pdf file) Full-text (Word 97)
Proposed Framework Decision on the European arrest warrant: Full-text (pdf) Full-text (Word 97)

Letter from Fair Trials Abroad on the EU arrest warrant: Letter

"Indivisible rights: Anti-terrorist laws can threaten liberty", Guardian newspaper, editorial, 19.9.01: Editorial

George Monbiot writes in the Guardian newspaper on "The need for dissent"

The American Civil Liberties Union is organising in response to planned to counter-terrorism proposals: ACLU

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