Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Thursday, 8 February 2007

A police state? The issues

One of the two men freed after being held in a major anti-terrorism operation in Birmingham says Britain is turning into a "police state for Muslims".

Scene after a police investigation
Anti-terror laws and raids have been critcised by some

Abu Bakr, who works at an Islamic bookshop raided in the city, said that he believed terror laws had been designed specifically for Muslims and "that's quite an open fact - we're the ones who are being locked up, detained and then told to go back to our lives".

While the government - and indeed the opposition - says the legislation was designed to cover everybody, some grassroots political activists in Muslim communities share the views of Mr Bakr. So what are some of the laws that concern Muslims?

TERRORISM ARRESTS

According to the most up-to-date figures from the Home Office, between 11 September 2001 and 30 September 2006, police made 1,113 arrests under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Of those, 104 were charged with specific anti-terrorism offences and a further 100 were charged under the act and other laws.

Another 182 were charged under other criminal legislation. But two elements remain unclear - how many people have been successfully prosecuted - and how many of these are Muslims.

A number of major terrorism-related trials with a large number of defendants are taking place during 2007, after which the numbers may become clearer.

The Home Office says that it does not have an ethnic or religious breakdown of those arrested. A large number of anti-terrorism arrests still take place in Northern Ireland - 214 in 2006 alone.

DETENTION

At present, someone can be held under anti-terrorism laws for up to 28 days without charge, although this depends on the approval of the courts. It was this legal requirement that led to the release of Abu Bakr and another man in Birmingham.

The 28 day limit was a doubling of the previous 14 days - but far less than the 90 days the government asked for in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings.

Some senior police officers and ministers say there remains a case for 90 days to allow detectives to go through massive amounts of potential evidence, such as encrypted computer disks.

Ministers are limbering up to try once more to extend the time limit. They are certain to face a tough battle.

NEW TERRORISM OFFENCES

Anti-terrorism laws have been broadened in the wake of 9/11 after Parliament accepted the police and security services needed more powers to do their job.

But many of these new powers have gone down poorly in Muslim communities - although equally there are many Muslims who think some of these laws are entirely sensible.

New laws include offences of training for terrorism, inciting acts of terrorism, failing to notify the authorities of a potential terrorist act and broader stop and search powers.

Some of the most controversial laws for campaigners include the offence of acts preparatory to terrorism.

This is aimed at capturing people before they get to the stage of launching an attack, although critics argue that existing conspiracy law covered the same ground.

Another controversial law is disseminating terrorist publications. Some campaigners believe this restricts legitimate free speech for Muslims who want to talk about overseas issues such as Kashmir or the Middle East.

PROSCRIBED GROUPS

The government has proscribed a number of Islamic political organisations, including the successors of Al Muhajiroun, the group formerly run by radical self-styled cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed. While few Muslims objected to actions against these groups, many objected to an initial plan to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT).

It says it is a non-violent political organisation and although it has limited support some Muslims thought banning it would be a step too far.

CONTROL ORDERS

There are 18 control orders in place against terrorism suspects. These are powers that severely restrict the movements of alleged terrorism suspects who have not been charged with a crime.

Critics say it amounts to house arrest. Two of those subjected a control orders have absconded, along with a third man who had been due to be served with an order by police.

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Prime Minister Tony Blair has described allegations that Britain has become a police state as a "gross caricature".

He has some support in this view from element of the UK's Muslim community, including Labour MP Shahid Malik.

Separately, the Home Office stresses there is oversight in the system. There is an independent reviewer of some parts of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlisle, who produces an annual report. The Home Office has itself repeatedly stressed that legislation is there to protect all communities from a common threat.


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