Law Raises Concerns of Civil Libertarians
COPENHAGEN — Said Mansour, a slightly built man with a bushy beard, believes Muslims have a right to kill Americans in Iraq because, he said, “This is war; it’s not a picnic.”
So, he explained in an interview last week, he had no qualms about downloading and burning CDs of Internet videos depicting beheadings in Iraq and speeches by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the terrorist mastermind behind much of the Iraqi insurgency.
Now, Danish police intend to make Mansour, 45, a Moroccan-born Danish citizen, the first person ever charged under an anti-terrorism law enacted in 2002 that forbids instigation of terrorism or offering advice to terrorists. Police sources said Mansour would probably be charged for distributing CDs that contained the inflammatory jihadist speeches and gruesome images.
The law contains curbs on free speech that are remarkable in a country famous for tolerating all points of view. It illustrates how democracies across Europe are adopting tougher measures in an era of rising extremist violence, despite protests that civil liberties are being sacrificed in the process.
The 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people, and the London bombings last month, which killed 56 people, including the four bombers, have added new urgency to the issue.
“We have to look at reality,” said Rikke Hvilshoj, Denmark’s minister of refugee, immigration and integration affairs, noting that some have abused Denmark’s free speech guarantees to encourage violence and killing. “The day we don’t have freedom of speech, the fundamentalists have won,” she said. “On the other hand, we can’t be naive.”
Experts said the debate about how to balance anti-terrorism protections with individual freedoms is at the top of the agenda for European nations. The issue is particularly acute in Denmark, Italy and Poland — which have troops in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led military coalition and fear they could be the next target — and in Spain, following the train attacks there.
“The mood has shifted in Europe more toward security than it was before the London bombings,” said Daniel Keohane, senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform in London. “The Europeans have always been very nervous about infringing on civil liberties. But when you experience terrorism, it changes your views.”
France, with Europe’s largest Muslim community — 6 million people — has just announced plans to strengthen its anti-terror laws, already among Europe’s strongest. Britain now plans to ban or deport those who incite terrorism, close bookshops or places of worship used by radical groups and criminalize speech that “foments, justifies or glorifies” terrorism.
Human rights groups and Muslim civic leaders called those measures too broad.
“What may be seen as a glorification of terrorism by one person might be seen as an explanation of the causes of terrorism by another person,” said Azzam Tamimi, a senior leader of the Muslim Association of Britain.
Some political activists here said their government was trampling free speech guarantees contained in the Danish constitution.
“They have crossed the line,” said Naser Khader, 42, a Syrian-born member of Parliament who has been a vocal critic of Muslim extremists. “The society must be open and free. If you close it and make a lot of restrictions, the terrorists get what they want.”
But a recent survey found that 80 percent of Danes supported the new laws to battle terrorism and control immigration. In Britain, 73 percent of people polled by the Guardian newspaper in mid-August said that they were willing to give up some civil liberties to improve security.
“The terror is getting closer,” said Morten Messerschmidt, a member of Parliament from the strongly anti-immigration Danish People’s Party. “First it was D.C. and New York, then Madrid and now London. Who’s next? There’s no doubt we are in a potential threat situation, and that scares people.”
Messerschmidt said curbing free speech was “very tough and emotional to do in England or Denmark or any other country that respects freedom, but it’s out of necessity.” He said a terror attack in Denmark was inevitable. “You’d have to live in a fantasy world to think it won’t happen here.”
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen ordered a review of national laws governing security and civil liberties immediately after the London bombings. “We must not have a police state and a surveillance society,” he said in a recent radio broadcast. “But we must not be overindulgent either.”
Many European countries have long had laws banning racist hate speech, an outgrowth of their experiences with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. But analysts said Denmark’s new speech law, part of a package of anti-terror laws enacted in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was at the forefront of tougher European laws. The law banning instigation of terrorism carries a penalty of up to six years in prison.
Denmark’s anti-terror laws also ban financing of radical groups and give police new powers to electronically eavesdrop on suspected radicals. Danish intelligence officers have also increased what Hans Jorgen Bonnichsen, commander of the Danish Security Intelligence Service, called “preventive talks” with potential radicals.
In an interview, Bonnichsen said his officers conduct close surveillance of suspected radicals and occasionally let them know they are being watched in order to disrupt their activities. He said intelligence officers work closely with Danish universities to monitor foreign-born students and watch for suspicious activity.
“Three years ago, people thought it was terrifying what Denmark was doing,” said Hvilshoj, the immigration affairs minister. But with the shifting mood in Europe, she said, “that has changed. People are looking at Denmark differently.”
In Denmark, as in much of Europe, fears of terrorism are often intertwined with concerns about immigration, particularly the immigration of Muslims. There are about 15 million Muslims living in the 25 countries of the European Union. Roughly 200,000 of Denmark’s 5.4 million people are Muslim.
Rasmussen’s right-leaning government was elected in November 2001, riding a wave of popular anger about rising immigration. Nearly overnight, the government reversed Denmark’s generous immigration policies, tightening requirements for asylum-seekers and for foreign residents trying to bring in spouses.
Many Muslims in Demark see racist motives in the government’s policies.
“The Danes have a fear of disappearing into the bigger European ocean,” said Ahmed Abu Laban, one of Denmark’s most prominent imams. “They have made immigrants pay the price. Muslims have become the scapegoat. They think we will undermine their culture and their values.”
But police officials said racism had nothing to do with their plan to charge Mansour under the instigation law.
Mansour, who arrived for an interview in long Muslim robes and sandals, insisted on praying before speaking to a journalist.
He said he had come to Denmark in 1983 to join a sister who lived here. He married a Danish woman the next year; they now have four children who attend public schools. His wife is a public school teacher, but Mansour said he was unemployed and collected a monthly government welfare benefit of about $1,800.
Mansour described leading an active life in Danish Muslim circles, distributing audio recordings and videotapes of peaceful Islamic songs and stories. He denied being a violent radical, although he said he was “happy” about the Sept. 11 attacks and admitted he maintained relationships with well-known radicals from other countries.
He said he had been close friends with Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the cleric who was convicted in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. He said Abdel Rahman stayed at his house twice on visits to Denmark.
Mansour also said he was in contact with two men whom authorities have described as aiding or inspiring the Sept. 11 attacks. One was Abu Qatada, a radical Muslim cleric who was convicted in Jordan of several bomb attacks; tapes of his speeches were found in the German apartment used by several Sept. 11 attackers. The other was Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, a Syrian accused in Spain of giving money and support to the Sept. 11 attackers.
Mansour said he was aware that the police intend to bring charges against him. But he said that knowing people who had been convicted of crimes was not illegal and that passing out material downloaded from the Internet shouldn’t be, either.
“Everybody can do it,” he said, asserting that Danish officials are “just trying to show the Americans they are against terrorism. They don’t have anybody, so they are using me.”
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