Police talk outside a house that was involved in pre-dawn raids in a western Sydney suburb on September 18, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Sydney) − A counterterrorism bill before the Australian parliament would introduce overly broad new criminal offenses that undermine rights to freedom of expression and movement, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The proposed Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill prohibits travel to “declared zones,” “subverting society,” and advocating terrorism, and permits the extended use of control orders and preventive detention.

“The Australian government already has ample and sufficient powers to combat terrorism,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director. “The new offense of ‘advocating terrorism’ is so broad and vague that it risks criminalizing free speech, while the ban on travel to ‘declared areas’ ignores many legitimate reasons people travel to areas caught up in armed conflict.”

The proposed measures would be unnecessary and ineffectual in the fight against terrorism, while simultaneously depriving people of fundamental rights, in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch said. The Foreign Fighters Bill would enshrine into law excessive restrictions on freedom of expression and movement and exacerbate abuses under existing laws relating to preventive detention and control orders.

“Australian politicians should reject new measures that will expand government powers at the expense of the rights of Australians,” Pearson said. “Parliament should recognize that the government’s duty to keep people safe is furthered by an open society that respects people’s basic rights.”

The government should provide adequate time and opportunity for public analysis and discussion of the bill, Human Rights Watch said. Public review is important for any legislation but particularly crucial in this case given its serious and long-term human rights implications.

“The Foreign Fighters Bill’s importance means the government should be encouraging public debate, not ramming the bill through parliament,” Pearson said. “The government shouldn’t be in such a rush to pass problematic laws that resemble those found among its rights abusing regional neighbors.”