In the UK

The Government has announced a new definition of extremism. Michael Gove, communities secretary, told ministers on Thursday that they should not interact with any groups labelled as extremist or that do not maintain ‘public confidence in government’. While the former definition encompassed ‘vocal or active opposition’, the new definition refers to the ‘promotion or advancement of ideology’. This move away from physical acts into ideas has been criticised as having the potential to infringe on the right to freedom of thought when there is no harmful consequence – Miriam Cates MP warned of its potential to ‘chill speech of people who have perfectly legitimate, harmless views’. Any organisations judged to fall within the remit of the new definition will be excluded from receiving funding or having an audience with any minister. If a group feels that their labelling as extremist is incorrect, they can challenge the ministerial decision before the courts – but there is no process for internal appeal. The chief executive of MEND, one of the organisations mentioned by Mr Gove, told the BBC he would pursue legal action if the organisation was labelled extremist. Brendan Cox, widower of Jo Cox MP, told The Guardian in the wake of the change that ‘extremism deserves to be treated seriously and soberly, not used tactically to seek party political advantage’.

On Wednesday, the House of Commons passed the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, which automatically quashes the convictions of hundreds of sub-postmasters wrongly convicted as a result of the Horizon IT scandal. This is the first time a piece of legislation has been used in order to vacate convictions en masse. On top of the £179m already paid to those wrongly convicted, a £600,000 lump sum has been made available to sub-postmasters wrongly convicted, and a £75,000 payment was approved for any who, though not convicted, suffered mistreatment. Though the subject of the Bill is uncontroversial, some lawyers have been left feeling uneasy about its methods; legal experts have warned that legislating to overturn convictions threatens to override the judicial process and could set a dangerous precedent.

In wider news

Voting in Russia’s presidential election began on Friday with ballots continuing to be cast over the weekend. Vladimir Putin is standing for his fifth term as president after amendments to the constitution were made in 2020 to allow a candidate to stand for fifth and sixth terms; another term will see him having served 30 years in power. Although a handful of candidates are running against him, others have been disqualified and many consider that those remaining pose no credible threat. Nations have been called upon by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to refuse to recognise and legitimate the results of this weekend’s election, which has been referred to as a ‘carefully staged legitimisation ritual’.

Five years after the proposal for regulation was first tabled, the EU voted in a plenary session on Wednesday to adopt the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act, now expected to receive final approval within weeks. The Act categorises the risk level of various programs and imposes stepped restrictions accordingly, including banning any system of AI deemed to pose an ‘unacceptable risk’ (with exemptions for military and national security use). The response to the Bill has been mixed – while many are praising the EU for being the first to create a set of binding regulations on AI, the Act has been criticised both for being too burdensome and stifling competition in the tech sector and for its silence on crucial human rights matters such as biometric mass surveillance and predictive policing. Amnesty International has suggested that the failure of EU lawmakers to ban the export of AI incompatible with the new legislation will allow companies to profit from technologies the Union itself has deemed excessively dangerous and harmful, establishing ‘a dangerous double standard’.

An open letter signed this week by twelve Israeli human rights organisations has accused Israel of ignoring the provisional ruling delivered by the ICJ over the military campaign in Gaza. 25 NGOs have also sent a letter this week to President Joe Biden calling for the United States to end their ‘support for the ongoing catastrophic humanitarian situation’ by terminating the provision of weapons and security assistance. This comes as the President announced a floating pier would be built for aid to access Gaza while President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced that a sea corridor would be opened into Gaza to supply food amid fears of an impending famine.

In the courts

On Tuesday, the ECHR published a judgment confirming that the right to conscientiously object to military service is protected by the right to freedom of conscience and religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms. The applicant, Murat Kanatlı, was convicted for refusing to perform compulsory Turkish military service on the grounds that he conscientiously objected.  The statutory provisions did not allow him to undertake any other kind of civilian service in substitution, and therefore there was no possibility a fair balance between his interests and the interests of society had been struck. Accordingly, the Court found a breach his rights under Article 9.

Two courts in Japan ruled last week that the country’s ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. In separate rulings, the Sapporo High Court ruled that the lack of recognition of same sex marriage in the Civil Code violated the constitution while the Tokyo District Court declared that the ban violated the dignity of the individual and was therefore unconstitutional. These are the latest in a slew of Japanese judgments over the last five years suggesting the that the legislature should recognise same sex marriage in order to honour the rights of citizens. Though polls suggest same sex marriage enjoys support from up to 70% of the population, the government have shown no indication that this is likely to occur in the near future.

Thirty-three Metropolitan police officers are suing the Met for trauma stemming from the Grenfell Tower fire. Civil claims are being pursued for psychiatric injury suffered during the tragic event in 2017 which killed 72 people. Mediation is ongoing and it is hoped an out of court settlement will be reached. The proceedings have commenced against the Met Police after it was announced last month by the Fire Brigades Union that the claims of firefighters responding to the tower fire had been settled for over £20m. It is expected that the second and final report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will be published this spring or summer and will inform the Met Police’s decision as to whether to bring criminal charges against any parties, including corporate and gross negligence manslaughter.

The post The Weekly Round-Up: Extremism Redefined, Justice for Subpostmasters, & Elections in Russia appeared first on UK Human Rights Blog.