Tougher laws should not be ‘only’ tactic in fight against online extremism

Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd looks at the media as she arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, in London, in this Sept. 21, 2017 photo. (AP)
Updated 04 October 2017

Tougher laws should not be ‘only’ tactic in fight against online extremism

LONDON: Tougher laws and harsh prison sentences should not be the only method of tackling the threat of terrorism, warn campaigners and academics as governments across Europe look to ramp up their anti-terror legislation.
The UK’s home secretary Amber Rudd announced plans on Tuesday to change the law to be able to sentence people who repeatedly view terrorist content online for up to 15 years in jail. Currently people can only be convicted of an offense if they download or store this material rather than view or stream it online.
It is a “critical difference” to the law, she said during a speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Someone who publishes information on the UK police or armed forces for the purposes of preparing a terror attack could also face up to 15 years in jail, she said.
Her speech comes after a series of attacks by radical extremists across Europe this year, and on the same day as French MPs voted on an anti-terrorism law that could increase police powers.
Rudd also told the conference that social media and technology companies must do more to tackle online extremism.
That was a move welcomed by the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit group based in London and New York. “Amber Rudd is correct, extremist content is too easily accessible and not enough is being done presently to pressure Internet and social media companies to more quickly and permanently remove extremist and terrorist content,” said executive director David Ibsen.
Others warn that some of Rudd’s tougher policies may have potentially negative and unintended consequences.
“Whilst we understand the Home Secretary’s intentions in changing the law in terms of viewing extremist material and the punishment served, we should not be complacent to think that this will eradicate extremism from our society,” said Saida Mughal, CEO of the Jan Trust, an organization that works with women — mainly mothers — to counter online extremism. Mughal is also a survivor of the London 7/7 bombings in July 2015.
“It may even push some to the more old-fashioned ways of being radicalized such as groups and study circle. Our government needs to drive on the bottom-up approach where communities are fully equipped to change hearts and minds,” she said.
Rik Coolsaet, professor of international relations at Ghent University in Belgium, wrote in a report published Tuesday that more grassroots efforts across Europe — such as working with vulnerable young people — are needed to prevent radicalization.
“Prevention will always be cheaper than intervention,” he wrote in a report looking at the current and potentially dwindling influence of Daesh. Coolsaet questions whether the group even holds the online allure that it once did.
“Daesh’s global media output has decreased significantly, and the golden age of its Twitter presence has definitely passed,” he wrote.
Hamed El-Said, professor of international business and political economy at Manchester Metropolitan University, said that filling up the UK’s prisons with those convicted of terror offenses is not the answer either.
“Prison alone is not a solution for this type of crime and it risks radicalizing individuals further to a point where they might start to believe that they are justified in resorting to violence. And that’s exactly what we want to avoid,” he said.
The UK prison system is not adequately equipped to prevent those convicted from becoming further radicalized, he said.
“Prison itself lacks comprehensive and effective deradicalization program that can achieve successfully rehabilitation and peaceful and compliant reintegration into society with minimum risks to the public,” he said.
During the first half of the year, only a handful of sentences of 15 years or more where handed out to defendants convicted of terror-related offenses, according to Home Office data.
The most common sentence length for defendants tried and convicted by the Crown Prosecution Service for a terrorism-related offense was between four and 10 years, with 26 defendants receiving this sentence in the first half of the year.

Over 400 Afghan women aim to break male stranglehold on Parliament

Updated 18 October 2018

Over 400 Afghan women aim to break male stranglehold on Parliament

  • Of 2,691 candidates vying for seats in Afghanistan's parliament, more than 400 are women
  • Their aims are to encourage a consensus among female members of Parliament and to end the reliance on factional leaders and strongmen with power and wealth

KABUL: For women in Afghanistan’s Parliament, what a difference a year makes.

Last December, the government proposed 12 candidates for ministerial positions; only one was female, and she failed to win enough votes.

Now hundreds of women aim to be agents of change by standing for Parliament in elections on Saturday.

More than 400 of the 2,691 candidates are women. Their aims are to encourage a consensus among female members of Parliament and to end the reliance on factional leaders and strongmen with power and wealth.

“The young and new candidates are a powerful tool to make Parliament exercise its rights as stipulated in the constitution,” said Zahra Nawabi, 28, a candidate from Kabul who has two master’s degrees.

“Our priority should be women, first and foremost addressing their health. Parliament should not become a source of shame for the nation.”

The practice of wealthy figures and men with power supporting their own choice of female nominees was a greater threat to Afghan democracy than the threatened attacks on the election process by Taliban insurgents, she said.

“The government needs to intervene to stop this, otherwise the next Parliament could be worse than the current one.”

Shinkay Karokhail, who was elected as an MP in 2005, was re-elected in 2010 and is standing again, admitted that female MPs had failed to form a powerful bloc in Parliament. Some of them regarded themselves “as extra-ordinary,” she said, and it was too early to say whether any of the new batch of candidates would be an improvement.