Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

EU counter-terrorism laws "stripping rights", says Amnesty

  • Armed soldiers patrol cities in France and Belgium. (Photo: Full-tactical)

Executive power grabs and counter-terrorism laws are rolling back freedoms across the EU, according to a report by Amnesty International.

Two years in preparation and covering 14 EU states, the document published on Tuesday (17 January) says Europe is dismantling civil liberties in a panicked effort to tackle the threat of terrorists.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Wide sweeping surveillance laws, prolonged state of emergencies, fast tracking legislation, curbs on the freedom of expression are among the trends affecting people in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks.

"In Spain, the artistic community has been disproportionately impacted," Amnesty International's Julia Hall, co-author of the report, told reporters in Brussels.

"The right to engage in artistic endeavors that might be cutting edge, that space shrinks ever smaller and smaller and in this particular point in time is more impoverished than we have seen in decades in Europe," she said.

Last year, police in Madrid arrested two puppeteers because their performance referenced the Basque nationalist group, ETA. The two were thrown in jail for "glorifying terrorism", although the charges were later dropped.

The notion of "glorifying terrorism" has taken hold throughout the EU with new laws being passed that makes it a criminal offence. It has also made its way into the EU's new counter-terrorism directive recently agreed to at the political level.

An article in the directive criminalises conduct seen to "glorify" terrorism. Hall said the measure will end up criminalising behaviour that is far too remote from any real offence.

The European Commission rejected Amnesty's critique.

"The commission does not share the view of Amnesty that counter-terrorism measures taken at EU level threaten the protection of fundamental rights in the EU," a commission spokeswoman told reporters.

She said the commission would monitor EU states to make sure they apply the charter of fundamental rights.

But France in 2015 had already prosecuted 385 people, a third of them minors, for making "glorifying" comments about terrorism either on social media or elsewhere. Bernard Cazeneuve, former French interior minister now prime minister, told MEPs in the civil liberties committee in December that the measures were needed given the "political reality."

The French dragnet has also led to major embarrassments.

Orange, an internet service provider, had inadvertently blocked all of Google and Wikipedia in France for an entire morning in October because the sites contained "terrorism" content. And La Quadrature du Net, a Paris-based digital rights NGO, says Facebook and Twitter accounts belonging to journalists, who follow jihadist movements, are being shut down without explanation.

Pre-emptive justice

People not charged with any crime, but are suspected of something, are also being harassed.

Amnesty's Hall said authorities in Europe are resorting to so-called administrative control orders to pre-empt possible future crimes. The orders, a piece of paper sent by mail, can impose curfews, requires visitors to get a security clearance, and other restrictions.

"We are seeing people who are being sanctioned, their rights being restricted and their freedoms limited even though they have never been charged with any crime," she said.

She said France has imposed and prolonged its state of emergency four times. Such efforts, she noted, risk becoming a norm. France argues the emergency decrees are needed to avoid attacks and will be maintained for as long as the security measures are required.

The executive branches in Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Luxembourg, and Poland can also declare a state of emergency "as defined in any way they see fit" without any judicial input, said Hall.

Other EU states appear to be pushing through laws without any real oversight or debate.

Poland, for instance, had adopted and passed a counter-terrorism law within 48 hours, described by the NGO as one of "the most severe" in terms of giving its internal security agency sweeping powers.

Mass surveillance

Among the biggest issues are the various surveillance laws being passed among EU states.

Germany, Poland, and the UK, among others, have recently passed laws described by London-based Privacy International as "a new era of mass surveillance" in Europe.

Britain's snooping charter allows authorities to engage in the bulk collection of "overseas-related communications", including those of lawyers and journalists.

Germany's communication intelligence gathering act allows its Federal Intelligence Service (BND) to also probe communications of non-EU citizens abroad.

EU terror law risks making protest a crime

An anti-terror bill is likely to sail through the EU parliament in December, despite serious concerns raised by rights groups over its broad understanding of what constitutes terrorism.

EU vows to mend terrorist data share failures

The EU is rolling out plans to improve a large police database in an effort to avoid repeats of allowing terrorists, like Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam, from slipping by police due to poor data quality.

EU parliament groups want inquiry into terror failures

The centre-right EPP and liberal Alde want EU state intelligence and police services to explain how people known to them were still able to commit terror attacks. The two groups are proposing a special committee.

News in Brief

  1. UN chief: World suffering from 'trust deficit disorder'
  2. Stalemate in Sweden as parliament ousts prime minister
  3. Migrant rescue ship heading to French port
  4. EU angry at British tabloids on Brexit
  5. UK to allow EU flights in no-deal Brexit
  6. Greek reporters arrested after story on 'mishandled' EU funds
  7. Austrian minister urges police to out foreign sex offenders
  8. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

One year to the day since the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, the commissioner for home affairs spells out what action the EU is taking now to protect against further attacks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses
  2. Russian with Malta passport in money-laundering probe
  3. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?
  4. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  5. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  6. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  7. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  8. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us