A European Council directive to curb the ability of terrorists to plot attacks is being opposed by civil liberties groups including Amnesty International, who say it undermines human rights and unfairly targets ethnic minorities.
European leaders met Wednesday at a meeting of the European Council to give the nod to a directive which seeks to criminalise preparation for terrorist acts, following similar recent approval by the European Parliament.
A key plank of the directive addresses the issue of “foreign fighters” – that is, the thousands of EU citizens who have travelled to undertake training by jihadist organisations before returning to Europe, in some cases to carry out terror plots against European citizens.
The directive criminalises such activities as “preparatory acts”, proscribing the travel, the funding, organisation and facilitation of travel, training, and the provision of funds to commit terrorist acts.
Supplying or transporting weapons, or in some other way soliciting another person to contribute to the preparation of terrorist acts is also defined as a terrorist activity by the 37-page directive, as is incitement to terrorism.
And acts “seriously destabilising the fundamental political, constitutional, economic infrastructures of a country or an international organisation” will also be outlawed, as will the public distribution of messages which glorify terrorist acts, or threats to commit such acts.
But Amnesty International, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), European Digital Rights (EDRi), the Fundamental Rights European Experts (FREE) Group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF) have voiced concerns over what they see as the unfair targeting of minority groups.
They say it could be used against peaceful political protestors, and may be used to discriminate against ethnic and religious minorities.
“This draft law is likely to criminalise conduct by people with no intention to commit or support terrorism, so-called ‘preparatory acts’ could include everything from communicating with people in certain countries to buying an airplane ticket”, said Julia Hall, Expert on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights at Amnesty International.
ENAR Chair Amel Yacef agreed, saying: “Being lenient about the protection of the rights of some for the purported benefits of ‘a’ majority is a blatant distortion of our human rights based values and will never cater for peace, reconciliation and inclusion.”
His organisation cites the placement of security cameras in Muslim majority areas, and the government’s Prevent strategy, which they describe as social workers being “required to denounce ‘radical’ behaviour”, as examples of Britain targeting “many innocent Muslims […] on the basis of their religious practice, with no evidence pointing to their involvement in any criminal act.”
The directive comes just months after the conviction and sentencing of notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary in the UK, after over two decades of him publicly espousing strong support for Islamic State and the imposition of Sharia law on the UK.
Although he claimed merely to be practising his religion by calling for Sharia, he was found to influenced numerous global terror plots and have links to more than 100 Islamic radicals in Britain alone.
During the hearing, Prosecutor Richard Whittam QC told the court: “Terrorist organisations thrive and grow because people support them and that is what this case is about. Do not confuse that with the right of people to follow the religion of their choice or to proclaim support for a caliphate.”