Terror bill could be ‘anti-Muslim’

The government’s proposed counterterrorism measures risk alienating Muslims, it was admitted yesterday.

A Home Office equality impact assessment said measures in the counterterrorism bill could foster a sense of persecution among Muslims and lessen their willingness to report suspicious activities.

Proposals to make it an offence to gather information on members of the armed forces that could be useful to a terrorist would increase the sense Muslims are “not sure what they were allowed to talk about any more,” the Home Office consultation noted.

And the government’s keystone plan to increase the period for detention without charge to 42 days risked harming relations and information-sharing between Muslim communities and the police.

“Muslim community representatives expressed a concern that this may lead to increased reluctance among their communities to provide vital co-operation and assistance to the police and security services,” the equality impact assessment, which was published alongside the bill, said.

There is already a perception that most people arrested under counterterror legislation are Muslims, the assessment found, and people felt they were targeted as a religious group rather than individuals.

Overall the consultation pinpointed “strong concerns” that the legislation is “anti-Muslim” and the Home Office was told to do more to win the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim community.

The assessment will do little to reassure MPs who are unconvinced by many measures in the counterterrorism bill.

Jacqui Smith is set to personally lobby Labour backbenchers as government whips warn the smooth passage of the bill cannot be guaranteed.

Tony Blair suffered his first Commons defeat in 2005 over attempts to increase the pre-charge detention limit to 90 days.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said yesterday the government was “obsessed” with increasing the limit despite a “complete lack of evidence” to justify the move.

This risked “undermining, not supporting” the battle against terrorism, Mr Clegg warned.

He concluded: “Gordon Brown himself says that the key objective in combating terrorism is winning over hearts and minds.

“How can he possibly then justify a measure like extending pre-charge detention which will do so much to alienate people?”

Shadow home secretary David Davis concurred that the government “had not produced a shred of evidence”.

Mr Davis said: “Last week, Jacqui Smith rightly highlighted the danger of radicalisation. Today, her fixation with extending pre-charge detention risks serving as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism.”

Instead, he urged the government to use practical ways to get the most out of the present 28-day limit, including the use of post-charge questioning and intercept evidence.