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Politics – Free speech

October 2016

Anjem Choudary’s conviction has proved new counter-extremism powers are unnecessary, free speech campaigners have said.

The Defend Free Speech (DFS) campaign, supported, among others, by the Christian Institute was launched in Parliament last year. It claims existing legislation is sufficient to target genuine extremists, and further hard-line laws are not needed.

The campaigners are opposed to planned Extremism Disruption Orders, which, they say, will stifle free speech and hit those who simply hold traditional views. In August, Choudary was found guilty of inviting support for Islamic State, under section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

The campaign director of DFS, Simon Calvert, said, ‘What we have seen with the conviction of this dangerous individual is that existing legislation can be used effectively to target those who incite others to join terrorist organisations and take up arms against their country’.

He said the case does not show why the government needs a broad law that could ‘potentially criminalise many ordinary people who hold traditional or strong views. There is a complete absence of safeguards, lack of clear definition of what is deemed to be extreme, and a plethora of legislation that can already be used against those inciting hatred, promoting violence or encouraging terrorism. No wonder both the current and previous independent reviewers of terrorism, David Anderson and Lord Carlisle, have voiced their concerns about these plans’.

In July, MPs and peers warned the plans could indiscriminately penalise religious conservatives. In a strongly worded report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said the government had offered ‘no impression of having a coherent or sufficiently precise definition of either non-violent extremism or British values’.

Without a clear definition, the committee said, authorities would have ‘wide discretion to prohibit loosely defined speech which they find unacceptable’.

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