LONDON - Britain will deport any non-citizen who foments, justifies or glorifies terrorist violence, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said yesterday, unveiling toughened criteria for remaining in the country in response to the July attacks on the transit system.
The pronouncement, aimed mainly at radical preachers, evoked criticism from civil liberties groups, who said that the new standards could infringe on Britain's culture of free speech and erode liberties. They also expressed concern that some Islamic dissidents would face torture if forced back to their home countries.
People "who seek to create fear, distrust and division in order to stir up terrorist activity will not be tolerated by the government or by our communities," said Clarke as he presented the specific guidelines on what will not be allowed.
Clarke said the first deportations could take place in the next few days.
The changes follow the July 7 attack on London's bus and Underground system that killed 52 people and an unsuccessful assault two weeks later.
In determining who might be banned, he said, the government would take into account statements such as past sermons, writings and Web sites. Clarke said he meant to send a strong message that "those who seek to foster hatred or promote terrorism ... are not welcome" in the United Kingdom.
According to the guidelines, which followed a two-week period of public consultation, a ban or deportation may be ordered for any non-British citizen using any medium to "foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek to provoke others to terrorist acts; foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts; or foster hatred which might lead to intercommunity violence" in Britain.
The rules do not require parliamentary approval because the home secretary already had discretion to exclude any foreigner deemed not conducive to the "public good."
Clarke denied that the rules would be applied in a way to "stifle free speech or legitimate debate about religion or other issues."
After the July attacks, Britain came under criticism at home and abroad that it had given sanctuary and even citizenship to radical Islamists who sometimes advocated violence. To some, they had turned London into a hotbed of Middle East radicalism - a so-called Londonistan.
These critics argued that Britain had allowed Middle Eastern clerics as Abu Hamza al Masri and Omar Bakri Mohammed too much leeway to set up networks in Britain that celebrated suicide bombings, including the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, and give encouragement to young Britons to travel abroad to train with the Taliban and al-Qaida.
After three of the July 7 bombers turned out to be British-born, carrying out deadly attacks on their compatriots, Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated that the policy of relative tolerance would have to change.
In recent days, however, some groups have argued that Britain might be going too far in its bid to toughen the rules and risked running afoul of international conventions on asylum and protections against the use of torture.
Clive Stafford Smith, a prominent human rights lawyer, said it was "unfortunate that the response to this tragedy from Britain is for us to abandon our commitment against torture. For example, if you look at what Clarke has done, he ignores the torture convention: it's simply illegal to deport people to countries where you have a reasonable basis to fear they'll be tortured."
The Muslim Council of Britain, a mainstream umbrella group of Islamic leaders, also expressed its unease. "It would be more prudent to bring persons who threaten the peace and security of the realm, whether resident or visiting, to trial under our own laws," the council said.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.