The British government is facing embarrassment over a U.N. report that has slammed it for enacting laws that, it says, threaten free speech and human rights.The report from the U.N. Committee on Human Rights specifically refers to the Terrorism Act, 2006, the strengthened Official Secrets Act and Britain’s stringent libel laws and said that cumulatively they are having a “disproportionate” effect of freedom of expression and civil liberties. According to a summary in The Guardian, the report also expressed concern over the move to extend the period for which terror suspects can be detained without being charged.

The committee was “disturbed” the government proposed to extend it from the existing 28 days to 42 days.

‘Amend Terrorism Act’

The committee is reported to have called for amendments to the Terrorism Act, arguing that some of its provisions are too “broad and vague” and could lead to a “disproportionate interference with freedom of expression.” It was particularly concerned about the definition in the Act of what constitutes “encouragement of terrorism.”

It said the definition was so broad and vague that even if a person did not intend to encourage terrorism he or she could be deemed to have committed the offence “where his or her statement was understood by some members of the public as encouragement to commit such acts.”

The offence carries a maximum sentence of seven years.

The committee was also reported to have criticised the government for using its powers under the Official Secrets Act to gag former employees and effectively prevent them from bringing into public domain issues of public interest.

The Act also interfered with the freedom of the press.

The committee called for a reform of libel laws which, it argued, appeared too restrictive in the age of the Internet and had led to “libel tourism” with rich and famous from other countries flocking to Britain to sue newspapers.

(Hasan Suroor LONDON)