UK: new terror bill may restrict free speech

The United Kingdom is currently discussing a new terror bill including a wide range of anti-terrorism and border security measures. Many voices, including the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), and recently the influential Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), raised concerns on the bill and its possible side effects on freedom of the press.

The Palace of Westminster, comprising the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which together make up the Houses of Parliament, are pictured on the banks of the River Thames alongside Westminster Bridge in central London on March 29, 2017.© JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

The Palace of Westminster, comprising the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which together make up the Houses of Parliament, are pictured on the banks of the River Thames alongside Westminster Bridge in central London on March 29, 2017.© JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

The United Kingdom is currently discussing a new terror bill including a wide range of anti-terrorism and border security measures. Many voices, including the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), and recently the influential Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), raised concerns on the bill and its possible side effects on freedom of the press.

The bill aims to close a number of loopholes in existing counter-terrorism legislation, in order to guarantee enough powers to the police and security services. However, according to the NUJ, "a number of clauses that could gravely endanger legitimate, public interest, media reporting of terrorists and terrorism".

The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) backed their affiliate in the UK in opposing to a legislation that may criminalise information-seeking and freedom of expression.

The NUJ is particularly worried about three clauses:

1. The clause on expressions of support for proscribed organisations, which doesn't clearly defines what types of speech would constitute an ‘expression of support’, limiting any debates about proscription and de-proscription of organisations.

2. The clause on publication of images, which lacks clarity as to what would be considered as terrorist content.

3. The clause on obtaining or viewing material over the internet, which may criminalise journalistic and academic researches.

These concerns were backed by the parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. On 12 October, it tabled 29 amendments to prevent the bill "from crossing the line on human rights" and restrict free speech and curb access to information. The government has yet to formally respond to the committee's report.

The bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 6 June 2018, and was introduced to the House of Lords on 12 September 2018. The next step will be the Committee stage, a line by line examination scheduled to start on 29 October.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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