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Amnesty International Asks Britain to Repeal Terror Laws


Human rights in Britain have been eroded during the past 10 years in a badly judged bid to limit the terror threat, that is according to the international body Amnesty International.

Amnesty told the government a number of counter-terror measures need to be dropped if civil rights in Britain are to be protected.

Amnesty highlighted four measures it says have seriously undermined human rights: police powers to stop and search people without suspicion; the state's right to hold suspected terrorists for 28 days without charge; extradition of foreign nationals despite the risk of torture; and restrictive control orders.

"All of these powers came into place over the last 10 years, mostly since the attacks on the U.S. in 2001 and the London bombings in 2005," said Tara Lyle, a policy advisor at the group's headquarters in London. "A lot of them were knee-jerk reactions in the immediate wake of a terrorist threat or a terrorist attack."

The measures were brought in under Britain's Labor government. Since May, the country has been led by a new coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

The new coalition asked Amnesty to submit a review of Britain's security legislation. Lyle says she is optimistic the government will take the watchdog's advice into consideration.

University of Bristol Political Science Professor Mark Wickham-Jones says the terror threat has brought many changes to Britain during the past 10 years. He says those changes have largely been felt by people on the margins of society.

"The freedoms exist in a less transparent, less obvious, less secure way than they did a decade ago. That is always going to be a trade-off with security issues. The question is whether the government got the trade-off right," Wickham-Jones said.

When the Labor party was in government, he says, the two parties that now form the coalition often voiced opposition to new counter-terrorism measures. But he says, now in power, a desire to repeal those measures may not prove forthcoming.

"When you get into government, things tend to be rather different and there is a sort of institutional momentum and a civil-service momentum in the United Kingdom," said Wickham-Jones. "So I doubt there will be fundamental changes in the kind of issues that Amnesty is raising."

The legislation under fire was brought in under former prime minister Tony Blair.

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