Human rights groups have reacted with horror after EU member states approved draconian new anti-terror laws which critics have warned could be used to suppress eurosceptic movements by force.
In a rare show of universal anger seven leading civil rights movements tore into unelected Brussels bureaucrats over the shadowy plot, warning that it endangers “fundamental rights and freedoms” including the right to protest.
The new EU Directive on Combatting Terrorism has sparked concern and consternation across the globe due to its incredibly vague definition of what constitutes a terror offence.
Leading lawyers and campaigners have warned that it could easily be used to mercilessly crack down on eurosceptic movements and thwart protest against controversial EU initiatives.
Worry about the draconian new law is running so high that seven top human rights groups have penned an open letter to the European Union urging them to reconsider it.
Amnesty International, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), European Digital Rights (EDRi), the Fundamental Rights European Experts (FREE) Group, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) all called for the legislation to be comprehensively amended or else scrapped altogether.
They voiced concern that, in its current form, the law could “lead to criminalising public protests and other peaceful acts, to the suppression of freedom of expression protected under international law, including expression of dissenting political views, and to other unjustified limitations on human rights”.
The directive, which will become law in Britain until we leave the EU, is so vaguely worded that terrorist offences include “seriously destabilising” a whole set of EU structures from the “political” to “economic”.
Amongst the powerful measures contained in the bill is a measure, borrowed from recent laws in France, that allows Brussels to order internet firms to block sites that “glorify” terrorism without any input from judges.
Critics have warned that the definition of terrorism is so vague that the law could easily be used to take down eurosceptic blogs and websites which are critical of the EU project.
Last month in France, where the measure was first coined, telecoms giant Orange was ordered to shut down Google and Wikipedia for an entire morning, with Internet users being directed to a French interior ministry website, where their IP addresses were then recorded by the authorities.
And the extent of the powers included in the bill are not yet known, because the full text of it has not yet been made public. It will only become common knowledge after the law has been voted through the EU parliament later this month.
Nadim Houry, director of the terrorism and counterterrorism programme at Human Rights Watch, said: “States should effectively address the threat of terrorism. But the EU has rushed to agree on a vaguely worded counterterrorism law that endangers fundamental rights and freedoms.
“Time and again we’ve seen governments adopt abusive counterterrorism laws without assessing their effectiveness, and then implement them in ways that divide and alienate communities. We worry this directive will reinforce this trend and leaves too much leeway for governments to misuse the directive to violate rights.”
Meanwhile Adrienne Charmet, from the Paris-based digital rights NGO La Quadrature du Net, said that whilst the legislation may have good intentions, there are no safeguards in place to stop it being abused.
She said: “There is no list of blocked sites and there is not right of appeal, until pretty much after the fact.
“Once we start accepting this type of blocking, it is difficult to stop expanding it to other subjects.
“It is used to detain or imprison individuals without any proof of them being dangerous or being radicalised.”
France has already imprisoned around 20 people since passing a law in June that makes it a crime to visit a “terrorist website”, as defined by secret Government authorities.
French investigative journalist David Thomson, who frequently researches Islamist extremism as part of his work, has had his Facebook account blocked several times whilst reading up about jihadism.
And Marloes van Noorloos, assistant professor of criminal law at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, observed that “any glorifying remark you could make about Nelson Mandela or Che Guevara, in principle, it is part of the definition”.
The law has been brought in as Europe tries to clamp down on a growing terrorist threat, with France, Germany and Belgium all having suffered Islamist attacks in the last 18 months.