Is Theresa May threatening freedom of expression?

by Pandora Longstreth

Following on from the Conservative Party Conference earlier this autumn, English PEN have voiced concerns about new anti-terrorist legislation proposed by the Home Secretary Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

Theresa May, 30th September 2014

Theresa May, 30th September 2014 

“I want to see new banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of the existing laws relating to terrorism. I want to see new civil powers to target extremists who stay just within the law but still spread poisonous hatred. So both policies – Banning Orders and Extremism Disruption Orders – will be in the next Conservative manifesto.”

The precise details of the proposed Banning Orders and Extremist Disruption Orders are still yet to be known. However, some documents that have been released suggest that these orders could be used to ban individuals from appearing in the media; restrictions on the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of expression for groups deemed ‘extremist’ and new curbs on access to the internet.

Theresa May’s use of the word “extremist” has also raised concerns. Although it is still unclear how this word will be defined in these proposed orders, in the Terrorism Act 2000 “extremist” has a broad and vague definition. Should a similar definition be used here, it could have an effect on completely legitimate political speech.

Jo Glanville, the Director of English PEN, says:

“We have real concerns that Theresa May is about to launch an assault on free speech in this country. As the government’s own independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has already said that the UK’s anti-terrorism legislation is so broad it can criminalise legitimate political speech, there seems no justification whatsoever to make the bar on speech even broader. Banning people from speaking in public who merely offend is unjustifiable in an open and democratic society – we may object to the views of fringe groups on the right or left, but to silence their voices is censorship.”

English PEN are concerned that these proposals are likely to restrict legitimate freedom of expression in the UK and set a dangerous precedent for governments globally.

For the original article, click here.


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