LONDON, January 6, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – One of the least talked-about of the European Union’s agreements could also be the biggest threat to civil rights, a leading British civil rights watchdog group has said. According to a report by the Freedom Association, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is a direct threat to civil rights of EU citizens who can be arrested and extradited automatically, without notice and without evidence presented as to their guilt.

The European Arrest Warrant provisions came into effect in British law in January 2004 and some civil rights watchers continue to warn that they can be used to silence political dissent or to prosecute “thought crimes” such as “racism or xenophobia.”

The Freedom Association submitted a brief to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that is currently sitting to discuss UK extradition policy, in which they said that the EAW was put into place hastily in response to the September 11th attacks in the U.S. As such, its human and civil rights implications were never thought through by legislators who voted for it, they said.

“Whilst our extradition treaty with the USA captures all the headlines, it is through the European Arrest Warrant that the vast majority of UK citizens are extradited,” the group said. Between 2003 and 2009, 69 British citizens were extradited to the U.S., while in a single year, 2009-10, 699 people were extradited to other EU member states under the EAW.

The Freedom Association brief warns that such “purely subjective” offenses have “encouraged governments across the EU to shut down freedom of speech, which also means freedom to offend.” The group warns that under its provisions, people can be extradited for “careless remarks in the heat of an argument.”

“It plays into the hands of those who will use political correctness to stifle freedom of speech.”

They pointed out the wide disparity of criminal offenses between member states. They gave the examples of possession of cannabis and the production of pornography, which are legal in the Netherlands, euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium, and abortion, which is illegal in Poland.

An EAW can be issued by any government to any other in the EU and local police are obliged to arrest the suspect without any evidence of a crime having been committed being presented. A local judge is then allowed to assess the case according to a narrow set of guidelines but is also not presented with any evidence against the suspect.

Citizens can be arrested and extradited for crimes they did not know they had committed, or for relatively minor offenses such as leaving a petrol station without paying or for administrative errors at border crossings. They can also be extradited, after being tried and found guilty in absentia, to serve custodial sentences.

Those detained can spend long periods in jail before facing charges, sometimes weeks or even months, for crimes which might not even have been prosecuted in Britain or even for offences which are not crimes in Britain at all. Other governments, such as Ireland and France, have either refused outright to go along with the EAW provisions, or have implemented safeguards for citizens. Not so the UK.

The Freedom Association said that the situation has recently become even worse with the adoption by the government of the European Investigation Order, which allows foreign police forces to order British forces to gather evidence, including bank statements, on UK citizens.

The first duty of a state, the group said, is to “protect its citizens, ensure a fair trial and ensure habeas corpus,” the legal provision that prevents unlawful detainment.

“Like any tool of power to control citizens, national governments seem keen to use [the EAW],” the report said.

11,000 EAWs were issued in 2007, up from 6,900 in 2005. The figures show that there have been more warrants issued against UK citizens than any other EU state, due, the group says, to the reputation of British judges for lack of diligence in applying existing grounds for refusal.

“Thus, not only has the UK implemented an extradition treaty, due to its membership of the EU, which has lowered extradition safeguards, but they have also suffered most under that law.”

David Blunkett, the Labour government’s Home Secretary when the legislation was adopted, admitted that he did not realize at the time the vast scope of the EAW or the problems it would cause. Blunkett insisted in an interview in August that he was “right” to have adopted the legislation, but said that he had been “insufficiently sensitive” about how they could be “overused.”

Nick Hallett, writing on the website of the UK Independence Party, said that few realize just what a “sinister piece of legislation” the EAW truly is. Hallett cited the case of Dr. Gerald Fredrick Toben, a German-born Australian citizen who is known for his anti-Semitism and revisionist historical writing denying the Holocaust.

German law makes Holocaust denial a crime, but it is legal in both Australia and Britain. Nevertheless, under the conditions of the EAW, Toben was arrested in 2008 at Heathrow airport while en route from the U.S. to Dubai. At that time, the three charges of racism, xenophobia and cybercrime, which were not crimes in Britain, were found by a British judge to be insufficient grounds for extradition. 

German authorities argued that Toben’s comments were available to be read in Germany, and therefore had been “published” in Germany.

Hallett commented, “So a man who wrote something that was not illegal in the country where it was written was arrested by another country where it was not illegal at the behest of a totally separate foreign nation.”