War on web terror
Nick Butterly, Jason Frenkel and Ian McPhedran
COMMENTS posted on a website praising a terrorist attack anywhere in the world could land a person in jail under tough new laws to be debated by state and federal leaders today.Australians could also find themselves in breach of federal law for distributing books or other literature urging people to travel overseas to kill coalition soldiers or for praising a terror attack as a brave act that should be repeated.
New incitement and sedition laws on the table at today's Council of Australian Government terror summit could place some Australian organisations and businesses in danger of breaching the law.
Likely to come under intense pressure from the laws will be the Australian arm of organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose website sails very close to praising the insurgency in Iraq, as well as Islamic bookshops that knowingly sell literature praising terrorism.
The public comments of some Muslim clerics could also be in breach of the rules.
Premiers, who have been outbidding each other and federal Labor with tough new counter-terrorism laws, want the Prime Minister to insert a sunset clause in the laws so they do not stay on the books forever.
John Howard has been reluctant to agree to the push, but has hinted at a review.
The Sedition Act will be revamped to focus on people who incite violence against groups within the community, rather than classes of people as was the case under the old act.
The penalty for sedition will be increased from three to seven years' jail.
One example of sedition given to the Herald Sun was where someone sympathetic to a terrorist cause puts up a notice on the internet calling on young people from a particular race to start fighting with young people of different races until they leave Australia.
A defence against the new sedition charge could be where the comment was made merely to criticise government policy.
For example, an internet posting calling for tight immigration curbs on young people from certain countries might anger people from those countries, but would not qualify for a sedition charge if genuinely about immigration policy.
Mr Howard sought to reassure Australia's Muslim community yesterday that any new laws would not be specifically aimed at them.
"Law-abiding Muslims have as much at stake in these laws being passed as law-abiding Christians or law-abiding atheists or law-abiding Jews or law-abiding Hindus. We are all in this together," he said.
But Australian Islamic Mission president Dr Zachariah Matthews said some of the reforms had the potential to cause more intolerance in the community.
Premier Steve Bracks said he was firm in wanting the proposed laws to include a minimum 10-year sunset clause with three-year reviews.
Mr Bracks also said judicial oversight was needed.
"The experience among governments around the world is that we do need special and unique powers to deal with . . . terrorism," he said.
© Herald and Weekly Times