Friday, March 19, 2010

Urging violence

The Krudd Government has introduced a range of amendments to Australia's counter-terrorism laws which it says aims to "deliver a better balance between protecting people's rights and protecting the nation from attack".

The new balance includes giving police the powers to enter and search property without warrants. To "protect people's rights" Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland proposes to abolish the crime of sedition, by renaming it "urging violence".

The crime of sedition is not an act of violence; sedition is criminalised speech (thought crime).

Previously to be tried for sedition in Australia, your speech had to threaten the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth. The proposed law amendments remove this onerous requirement. Amendments also expand speech crime law from applying against groups, to now cover speech crime against individuals as well.

The English Court of the Star Chamber invented the crime of sedition based on the theory that the King (Henry VIII ) was above public criticism and that statements critical of the government should be prohibited. Like the law of blasphemy, sedition fell out of use to a large extent in most democracies during the twentieth century.

Sedition laws were effectively defunct in Australia for half a century until 2005, when the Howard government introduced an anti-terrorism Bill and passed 44 pieces of anti-terrorism legislation, more than in any other comparable jurisdiction internationally.

An Australian national security legislation discussion paper from August 2009 recommended the above mentioned law amendments now being introduced in Parliament as draft legislation.

The 2009 report also proposed to expand the definition of a terrorist act in the Criminal Code to include psychological as well as physical harm, and a new terrorism hoax offence, punishable by up to 10 years' jail for anyone seeking to create a false belief that a terrorist act will occur.

While countries such as Bosnia & Herzegovina, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, Ghana and Sri Lanka have in recent times removed criminal defamation laws, it’s good to see the Australian government returning to the age of King Henry the eighth.

It was reported in July 2009 that the UK government was finally relenting and had agreed to abolish the offences of seditious libel and criminal defamation.

UK Justice Minister Lord Bach said:
"Sedition and defamatory libel are arcane offences from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn't seen as the right it is today"

While the UK laws were rarely in use, their existence, said Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
"provides more repressive governments around the world with the excuse they need not only to refuse to repeal defamation laws but also to make active use of such laws to imprison journalists, writers and others."

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