Last night Defend Free Speech, Britain’s ‘most unlikely campaign group’, was officially launched at Parliament to oppose the Government’s controversial plans for Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs).
The Defend Free Speech campaign group is supported by The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and other organisations who are concerned that legitimate freedom of expression could be criminalised.
The campaign is also backed by former shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, Caroline Lucas MP and former Chief Constable Lord Dear.
‘Basic civil right’
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, commented that free speech is the “most basic civil right”, which includes the right to “challenge those who rule or govern us”.
He said the plans “had to be resisted”, as the Government could crack down on those deemed as ‘extreme’, “even if they have not broken a single law”.
The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert, Campaign Director of Defend Free Speech, said: “We are deeply concerned with the Government’s plans. The complete absence of safeguards and any clear definition of what is deemed to be extreme will have a chilling effect on free speech and campaigners.
“We might be Britain’s most unlikely campaign group, but we are united in our belief that free speech is a vital civil liberty and must be protected.
“This legislation is badly conceived and will be bad for society.”
Homosexual rights campaigner Peter Tatchell commented: “Heavy-handed legal restrictions and sanctions on free speech undermine the democratic, liberal values that extremists oppose and that we cherish.”
He added: “Free speech is one of the most precious of all human rights and should be defended robustly.
“It can only be legitimately restricted by the law when it involves harmful libels, harassment, menaces, threats and incitements to violence.”
The Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy was launched last week, and included plans for EDOs.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister David Cameron introduced the proposals saying: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.”
He then went on to promise that the Government “will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach”.
The Chancellor George Osborne has said in a letter to a constituent that the legislation would go “beyond terrorism” and that it sought to “eliminate extremism in all its forms”.
He said it would apply to “harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate but do not break laws”. The letter does not define what harmful activities are or give a definition of extremism.
The Defend Free Speech campaign website defendfreespeech.org.uk gives up-to-date information about the campaign, and helps people to contact their MP about the proposals.