Professor of law: You can’t call people terrorists without evidence

One of the difficulties in formulating an internationally agreed definition of terrorism is that the term is so slippery. All the actions carried out by terrorists are already crimes under existing laws.What the use of the term does is to mean that these are especially abhorrent crimes. It is mainly used as a term of abuse.
If a group is advocating or using violence, that is a criminal conspiracy and that group should be investigated with a view to prosecution. If they are to be put on a list without a prosecution, then there has at the minimum to be evidence for it, some explanation of why they were put on the list in the first place, and a legal means to challenge the decision. At present, that does not exist.
When the original “terrorist list” was presented to Parliament in 2000, MPs could vote for the whole list or against the whole list. As al-Qa’ida was No 1 on the list, nobody wanted to vote against it. The People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) was on the list, but quite a few MPs and Lords are sympathetic to the PMOI’s struggle against the regime in Iran. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has the same objectives, but isn’t on the list. It has an office in Westminster and often holds meetings in Parliament.
Recently, the PMOI took its case to the European Court of Justice. The court came out with an unprecedented criticism of the UK, saying the UK could not come up with any reasons for putting the PMOI on the list. The court was, in effect, saying that we’re acting incompetently and in bad faith. The suspicion is that the PMOI was put on the list at the request of the Iranian government.
There has to be a difference between political groups with objectionable or even crazy views, and those who use violence. Tony Blair has said more than once that he wants the group Hizb ut-Tahrir put on the terrorist list. Last year, the Association of Chief Police Officers said it had investigated Hizb ut-Tahrir and could find no evidence that the group used or advocated violence.
When you have a kneejerk reaction, you have the potential for dreadful miscarriages of justice, as we had in the 1970s. What will really stop terrorism is more effective police work, and prosecution based on real evidence.

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