Law professor: Terrorism laws can be used to stifle dissent

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Britain's use of anti-terror laws to freeze the assets of failing Icelandic banks shows how such legislation can be abused for purposes other than originally intended, according to a UN independent expert.

"It is indicative of the risks that measures that are originally inserted into legislation in the name of fighting terrorism may have a spillover effect into matters which have nothing to do with terrorism," said Martin Scheinin, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the protection of human rights in the fight against terrorism.

Last week Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde accused London of "bullying a small neighbour" over funds frozen in the online bank Icesave, and threatened to take legal action in response.

Haarde was reacting to London's use of anti-terrorist laws to freeze the assets of failing Icelandic banks in Britain as it sought to protect the deposits of thousands of British savers and public bodies.

The collapse of Icesave and its millions of pounds in British deposits sparked a major diplomatic rift between London and Reykjavik, but the rhetoric has since been toned down.

Scheinin, a Finnish law professor, described the British move as "a kind of in-built emergency regime" used for purposes other than what it was originally intended.

He warned that such practices "can easily be abused for the purpose of curtailing protest opposition (and) demonstrations."

"We see it in a number of countries where there is a broadening scope of application of terrorism legislation or measures justified with reference to terrorism," he said.