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FREE EXPRESSION CONSTRAINED, UN COMMITTEE FINDS

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has criticised Britain's 2006 Terrorism Act and other laws and practices as unduly restricting freedom of expression, says ARTICLE 19 in an August report. In its sixth periodic report on the United Kingdom, released in July, the committee said the Terrorism Act's definition of the "encouragement of terrorism" offence was "broad and vague," including no requirement of intent for the offence to be committed.

The committee said the 1989 Official Secrets Act has been used to prohibit former government employees and the media from publicly discussing issues of public interest, even when there is no risk to national security. And Britain's restrictive libel laws and the rise of so-called libel tourism
- "shopping" for plaintiff-friendly laws and courts - have discouraged critical reporting, harming scholars as well as journalists.
On the other hand, the UNHRC welcomed the government's abolition this year of the common-law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in England and Wales, which ARTICLE 19 says protected only the Anglican faith (Church of England).

Days after the committee reported, the British government further restricted former diplomats' freedom of speech. ARTICLE 19 said the new rules, which a parliamentary committee called "excessively wide-ranging and oppressive," followed embarrassing revelations in books by two former diplomats.

At the same time the government proposed to intercept and store "a billion incidents of data exchange a day" of online communications, according to a computing website. PC Pro said the information will be available not only to police to crack down on serious crime, but also to municipal councils, health authorities and even the post office.

Visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/5l7owl
- Libel tourism: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93931/
- Diplomatic speech: http://tinyurl.com/5fohju
- PC Pro: http://tinyurl.com/63tunb
(27 August 2008)

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