Amnesty warns EU's anti-terror laws threaten human rights

Amnesty's report on the effect of counter terrorism measures on human rights across Europe

NEW YORK - Legislation aimed at fighting terrorism across the European Union is "dangerously disproportionate" and threatens the rights of the people they are designed to protect, Amnesty International warned Tuesday.
"In the wake of a series of appalling attacks, from Paris to Berlin, governments have rushed through a raft of disproportionate and discriminatory laws," John Dalhuisen, the rights watchdog's director for Europe, said in a statement.
"Taken alone these individual counter-terrorism measures are worrying enough, but when seen together, a disturbing picture emerges in which unchecked powers are trampling freedoms that have long been taken for granted," he said.
Amnesty released a report titled "Dangerously disproportionate: The ever-expanding national security state in Europe", which is based on a two-year study of legislation in 14 EU member states as well as initiatives at international and European levels.
The laws have "steamrolled rights protections", the London-based rights group said.
States of emergency such as that observed in France and renewed five times since the November 2015 attacks in Paris, are part of "the new normal" allowing authorities to ban protests and conduct warrantless searches, Amnesty said.
In Hungary, a declared emergency now allows authorities to ban public assemblies, severely restrict freedom of movement and freeze assets, it added.
"Vaguely defined provisions grant powers to suspend laws and fast-track new ones and deploy the army with live firearms to quell disturbances," Amnesty said.
New laws have been "misused... to target human rights defenders and political activists."
As a "stark example", Amnesty pointed to emergency laws that allowed French police to put environmental activists under house arrest ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Paris in 2015.
Amnesty deplored what it called a "modern twist of the Orwellian 'thought crime', (whereby) people can now be prosecuted for actions that have extremely tenuous links to actual criminal behaviour."
The report laments the effects of anti-terror laws on refugees and minority groups, and on Muslims in particular.
"Profiling, often based on stereotyping, (can lead) to the outright misuse of laws that define terrorism very loosely," Amnesty said.
The report also noted that the laws have had a "chilling effect" on freedom of expression by instilling fear of being seen as a security threat or an "extremist".
It pointed to two Spanish puppeteers who were charged with "glorification of terrorism" after a satirical performance during which a puppet held up a banner with a slogan that was deemed to support an armed group.
"EU governments are using counter-terrorism measures to consolidate draconian powers, target groups in discriminatory ways and strip away human rights under the guise of defending them," Dalhuisen said.
"We are in danger of creating societies in which liberty becomes the exception and fear the rule."