David Blunkett

Britain, under Home Secretary David Blunkett, is increasingly coming to resemble something from a Kafkaesque novel, where ordinary people can be arrested in the dead of nigh and locked up without trial and without being told the charges that have led to their imprisonment. Internment – trial and imprisonment without jury is Blunkett’s latest piece of legislation and awaits any ‘foreigner’ mildly suspected of links to a terrorist organisations.

Those lucky enough to be locked up, according to Blunkett’s plans, would be permitted an appeal to a special immigration tribunal, but would be denied access to the information that allegedly lead to their arrest. Moreover, the suspected terrorist could remain in prison indefinitely, subject only to six monthly reviews.

This new chunk of legislation, based on the threat Britain supposedly faces since September 11th – is a technical twist to allow Britain to opt out of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which presently bands detention without trial.

Internment, however, is not new. During the Gulf War, 100 Iraqis and Palestinians were detained without trial in the UK – not one being charged or deported. Amongst them was the writer Abbas Shiblak, who had been an outspoken opponent of Saddam in the days when Britain was arming Iraq to the teeth.

It was more memorably reintroduced into Northern Ireland in 1971 by a Heath Government determined to smash the IRA. By March the following year 924 were interned – 98% of them released without charge. The mass and indiscriminate arrests of Catholics (only) led to widespread rioting and protests and 23 deaths. Indeed, more people were killed in the following week than had been killed in the previous six months. On one night alone, 3000 British troops descended on Catholic areas and arrested hundreds of men. Rather than crush the IRA, the manure swelled their ranks, with many seeing the IRA as legitimate defenders of their communities..

We can only ever be wary of such legislation – not welcome it with open arms. It has little to do with terrorism and far more to do with the state placing itself in a better position from which it can place more control over our lives.

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