Index on Censorship is urging the House of Lords to stop the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill being enacted in its current form. The House of Lords will begin considering the bill tomorrow.
The bill, which has been slipping quietly through parliament, would reshape the legal framework for freedom of expression and journalism in the UK in a very damaging way. It would have far-reaching implications for academic research.
The vague and unclear bill would criminalise expressing an opinion that is “supportive” of a proscribed (terrorist) organisation if done in a “reckless” way that encourages someone else to support that organisation (see Clause 1). This comes very close to criminalising opinion and would carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Index is deeply concerned about other sections of the bill, which would undermine media freedom and restrict the rights of journalists. The bill would criminalise accessing content online that is likely to be useful for terrorism, even if you have no terrorist intent. A journalist investigating a terrorism-related story would risk a 15-year prison sentence. The bill would also criminalise publishing (for example, posting on social media) a picture or video clip of an item of clothing or an article such as a flag in a way that raises “reasonable suspicion” that the person doing it is a member or supporter of a terrorist organisation. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has recommended that this clause be withdrawn or amended because it “risks a huge swathe of publications being caught, including historical images and journalistic articles”.
Index has filed an official notification with the Council of Europe about the threats to media freedom in the bill and is awaiting the government’s reply to the Council. The Media Freedom Representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has written to the UK to express his worries about the bill.
United Nations special rapporteur Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin has expressed concerns about several parts of the bill, including its impacts on journalism, and emphasised that it should be brought in line with the UK’s obligations under international human rights law.
Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy, said: “The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill has far-reaching and very damaging implications for freedom of expression and journalism in the UK. It has been slipping through Parliament with little attention from MPs. Index urges the House of Lords to stand up for the rights of UK citizens’ and stop the bill from being enacted in its current form”.