Monday, July 16, 2007

"Reckless support"

After two weeks in police custody in Australia, Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef has finally been charged with recklessly supporting a terrorist organisation. What did that "support" consist of? According to the magistrate at his bail hearing today, he left a cellphone SIMcard with relatives on his last visit to the UK so they could use the time remaining on it. His "recklessness" seems to lie in the fact that those relatives later went on to try and blow something up. Note that the Australian government is not claiming any intention on Haneef's part, or that he had any suspicions about the future activities of his relatives - they're simply saying that he gave something innocuous to someone who later turned out to be an (alleged) incompetant terrorist.

This is setting the bar awfully low. Not only does it smack of collective punishment - victimising the relatives of the people who committed the actual crime - it also means that Australians can't actually determine whether they are committing a crime by "recklessly supporting terrorism" until potentially years after the fact. Which makes it impossible for Australians to know they are obeying the law, unless they avoid giving anything to anybody. Though in practice, this being Australia, the only people who will have to worry about this will be Muslims.

When the law can't tell you whether you're breaking it or not, and permits ex post facto criminalisation of innocuous and normally entirely legal acts, it is a bad law and has to go. Unfortunately, in the current climate, where politicians seem only to happy to whip up fear of terrorism so they can grandstand in the light of their own Australian "terrorist" "threat", that doesn't seem very likely.