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Issue #1785      July 12, 2017

Who is a terrorist?

Three weeks ago, in a highly disturbing move, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews foreshadowed the introduction of legislation under which people who are suspected of terrorism but haven’t actually committed a crime could be held without charge, placed under curfew or subjected to GPS tracking of their movements.

He also suggested that children as young as 14 who are terror suspects could be imprisoned for up to two weeks without charge, and that ASIO and the Federal Police should be on prison parole boards.

Andrews’ recommendations followed a siege at Brighton in Victoria, in which one man was killed and three police injured by a prisoner released on bail who was holding a woman hostage.

The bail decision led three federal Ministers to claim that Victorian judges have engaged in “ideological experiments” involving the lenient treatment of terrorists.

The Victorian Supreme Court, which was hearing appeals against sentences for terrorism imposed on two teenagers, then asked the ministers why they should not be held in contempt of court.

The ministers expressed half-hearted regrets, but offered no unqualified apologies. The incident demonstrated that the Turnbull government intends to pressure the judiciary to sentence offenders according to its political agenda, and wants to interfere with the constitutional separation of powers.

Attorney-General George Brandis also refuses to rule out the introduction of mandatory sentencing, under which judges would have to impose sentences determined by the government. In the 1930s, pressure applied to the German courts, together with the introduction of mandatory sentencing, resulted in the judiciary becoming a servile arm of the Fascist state.

Who is a terrorist?

“Terrorist” refers to members of organised groups intent on creating mass terror by criminal acts. However, cases of individual violent criminal behaviour are now being unjustifiably treated as if they are part of organised terrorist activity.

Yacqub Khayre, the drug addict responsible for the Brighton siege, and Man Haron Monis, who conducted Sydney’s Martin Place siege, have been treated by state and federal governments as terrorists.

Both were severely mentally unbalanced and had been convicted of violent behaviour, but neither appears to have actually had formal links to a major organised terrorist group. In 2010 Khayre was accused of having links to a terror “cell”, but he was subsequently acquitted. Monis claimed he was acting for ISIS but evidence does not confirm this.

(Man Haron Monis, who was granted political asylum in Australia in 2001, was on bail for a string of violent offences, including being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. He was also facing more than 50 sexual and indecent assault charges and had a conviction for sending abusive letters to families of deceased Australian soldiers. Police negotiated with Monis, via hostages, for 16 hours before officers stormed the building.)

In attempting to justify his proposed amendments to Victoria’s parole system, Andrews referred to Melbourne’s Bourke Street car attack, which was in fact the act of a deranged individual, and to the murder of ABC journalist Jill Meagher, which had nothing to do with terrorism at all.

Andrews has said: “If the rights of a small number of people is what’s required to keep Victoria safe, then I won’t hesitate to do it.”

But elimination of the rights of “a small number of people” would set a precedent for treating everyone the same way, i.e. by punishing them for crimes they haven’t yet committed.

Super department, super jails

The Turnbull government is considering amalgamating federal police, customs, immigration and intelligence services into a super department like the British Home Office.

The new department’s minister would probably be Peter Dutton, the sinister, secretive former police officer who has acted with ruthless disregard as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

The move, which is likely to take place in December when Attorney-General George Brandis is expected to retire, would be additional poison to relations with Australia’s Muslim community as part of the government’s demonising the Islamic members of the community.

In NSW, Chief Justice Warren recently commented that terrorist sentences there did not take into account the youth of the accused or the possibility of rehabilitation.

They certainly don’t. The Berejiklian government has proposed construction of a special wing of the Goulburn “supermax” prison, in which terrorist offenders would be held separately, to prevent ideological “infection” of other inmates.

Prisoners convicted of terrorism would either be held in solitary confinement or else prevented from meeting more than one other prisoner at a time. The use of languages other than English would be forbidden.

State and federal governments have recently agreed to pass legislation allowing for the indefinite detention of unrepentant terrorists after expiry of their sentences if the responsible government deemed them a threat.

Conservative politicians are reluctant to release any prisoners convicted of terrorism, and the brutal “supermax” scheme would almost certainly eliminate any possibility of repentance, so prisoners sent to the terrorist wing are likely to remain there until they die.

Media hysteria and public safety

The nation’s right-wing press, including the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the Melbourne Herald and The Australian, has covered the terrorism issue with hysterical and wildly inaccurate fear-mongering.

Not to be outdone, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson recently called for the mass internment of Muslims suspected of involvement in terrorism, and the deportation of suspects who are not Australian citizens.

Sydney radio “shock-jock” commentator Allan Jones advocated a reversal of the onus of proof for terror suspects, the dumping of fundamental principles of justice, and what sounded like arbitrary execution. He declared: “... round them up, whether the evidence is there or not. ... Intern them somewhere remote and leave them there or get rid of them.”

Elaine Pearson, Australian director of Human Rights Watch, commented: “Locking people up without charge or trial isn’t going to make us safer. It’s just going to make a new generation of disaffected and alienated young people who will look to ISIS. Locking them up would undermine our entire legal system, which is based on charges being laid, evidence being presented and then either conviction or acquittal.”

Australia’s “thought crime” laws, including those proposed by Andrews, could be applied to anyone the government wanted to silence or politically eliminate, by simply claiming they were a terrorist suspect.

The public certainly has a right to expect that it will be protected by government from terrorist attacks, and that applications for bail from criminals with a history of mental illness and persistent violence will be treated with the utmost caution by the courts.

But that doesn’t mean that prisoners should lose the right to apply for bail or to have their applications given serious consideration. The “lock ’em up and forget ’em” approach is already evident in our shocking treatment of asylum seekers who have committed no crime but have in many cases been imprisoned for years.

And the government has no right whatsoever to exploit widespread apprehension about terror attacks in order to introduce legislation that abolishes the civil rights of the Australian people.

Next article – Map spotlights genocide

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