Australia to relax anti-terror laws

CANBERRA – Australia’s tough anti-terror laws likely will be softened in response to criticism about raids, preventive detention, a shoot-to-kill provision and infringement of free speech, The Australian reports. Attorney General Philip Ruddock said that members of a parliamentary security committee already have forced some "minor changes," and agrees that there could be more.

The new laws allow a sentence of up to seven years in jail for inciting violence or racial hatred. Some lawmakers warn that the law could be misused to restrict legitimate criticism. Muslim and civil liberties groups also object to a shoot-to-kill provision for police in cases where a terror suspect attempts to escape or avoid "preventative detention."

"We are concerned police can shoot to kill without a crime being committed and that you can be held in preventative detention for 24 hours before you even see a judge," said Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network spokesman Waleed Kadous.

Under the Terrorism Act passed in 2003, police can enter property by force or using covert means where terrorist planning is suspected. The authorities must let the public know how many warrants have been sought and received, but not much else.

In the last year, police obtained warrants to enter six homes and other private property in Victoria and four homes in Melbourne as part of anti-terrorism operations. Other raids were staged in Sydney, based on suspicions that Muslim extremists were planning attacks on landmarks including Melbourne‘s stock exchange building and the Sydney Opera House.