LONDON (AFP) -Many British newspapers slammed proposed new anti-terrorism laws, condemning a plan to let terror suspects be detained without trial for up to 90 days as an affront to ancient liberties.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking to parliament before the Terrorism Bill was released on Wednesday, said the arguments made by police for extending the maximum detention period from the current 14 says were "absolutely compelling".
However, a series of newspapers rejected this, saying that even the bloody July 7 London bombings in which 56 people died, including four British Muslim men presumed to be the suicide attackers, did not justify the erosion of such freedoms.
The Daily Telegraph said it would "strongly dispute the need for the new law, whether the police want it or not".
"It offends our love of freedom that anybody in Britain should be held for three months without trial," the paper said in an editorial.
The proposal "subverts one of the central pillars of a civilised society — that people cannot be detained without charge," the Daily Mail newspaper argued.
Some new powers were needed it said, adding: "Yet in giving the police powers to detain suspects for 90 days without charge, the government is in danger of creating a whole new wave of political martyrs."
Three months was "too long" and likely to be counter-productive, The Guardian said, pointing out the fact that of 895 people arrested under terrorism laws in the past five years, around 500 were released without charge.
"Nothing is more likely to unite communities in opposition to anti-terrorist operations than this kind of law," the paper said.
Most outspoken was the left-of-centre Independent, which ran the banner headline ජ Days" over a mock-up photograph of 90 lines scratched into the brick wall of a prison cell.
"The result of giving police such a power would be that suspects (most likely young Muslims) would ”disappear” for months," it said.
Other aspects of the planned law, such as proposals to outlaw the encouragement and glorification of terrorism were "dangerously vague", the paper said.
"There is little evidence that serious thought has been given to how these new offences will be defined," the newspaper said, calling the government”s actions "a disgrace".
It added: "It is impossible to see how any of these new proposals would have thwarted the July 7 bombers."
The new legislation also calls for a ban on those who sell extremist books, receive or provide terrorist training, and prepare to commit attacks.
Members of both the governing and opposition parties, human rights activists and Muslim leaders are mobilising against many aspects of the bill, which they claim tramples on civil liberties and could fuel the anger behind terrorism.
Even the government”s own independent terror watchdog, Lord Alexander Carlile, warned that the extended detention period could be challenged in the courts under the Human Rights Act.