Definitions of terrorism according to Charles Clarke?


Here we post two questions raised during the hearings of ‘The Joint Committee on Human Rights Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights’ on Monday 24 October 2005. The Home Secretary Charles Clarke responds to Baroness Stern. Just what is terrorism according to Mr Clarke, but more importantly, will the ludicrously loose definition be allowed to stand in the new legislation?

Q12 Baroness Stern: Can I ask you about the definition of terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000 which is very wide ranging? Any violence, including damage to property, designed to influence the policy of any government anywhere in the world. That being the definition, is it your view that anybody who advocates political violence in any state, no matter how brutal or repressive, will be committing the offence of encouraging terrorism? For example, if somebody in Uzbekistan, for example, said, “Let’s go and pull down the posters of the repressive president” that is presumably damage to property. In your view, is that advocating political violence?

Mr Clarke: No. I do not think pulling down posters is political violence. Blowing up a bus, to give that example again, is political violence. I agree with you — this is where I concede a point to Lord Lester in the question he asked — that the question of where on this spectrum between tearing down a poster and blowing up a bus a particular act falls can in some circumstances be difficult. I do not think it is as difficult as it seems. To suggest that tearing down a poster is terrorism simply would not be substantiated by anybody in any circumstances. To suggest that blowing up a bus is not terrorism, on the other hand, would also be very difficult to argue. Though I agree it is possible in this great range of potential acts that one could conceivably describe to say there are some in the middle of this range where there could be an area of difficulty of judgment, I do not think most acts would have any difficulty of definition at all.

Q13 Baroness Stern: Do you consider that the broadness of this offence — it may not be tearing down posters but suppose it is breaking the windows in the Ministry of the Interior — is going to stop people discussing and debating what to do about trying to restore democracy in oppressive regimes?

Mr Clarke: In most cases it is a question of establishing rather than restoring democracy in the world at the moment because the striking feature of the world over my lifetime has been that, over whole swathes of the world, eastern and central Europe, southern Europe, South Africa, southern Africa, Latin America, central America, a democratic regime is now far more commonplace than was the case 35 years ago. I certainly think it is perfectly reasonable to have discussions about the right way to make change in any given circumstance but then you say to me what is my attitude to inciting changes in terrorist methods and my attitude is against it. I think the law should be against it.

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