UK Terrorism Law Used To Prosecute Actual Terrorist Fighter For Possessing A Copy Of 'The Anarchist Cookbook'
from the citizens,-let-the-Ministry-of-Culture-guide-your-reading-decisions dept
We’ve reached the point in terrorism hysteria where someone can be prosecuted simply for having a copy of book already owned by millions. Ryan Gallagher details the trial of Josh Walker — a man who actually left the UK to fight against terrorists, only to be charged under the nation’s terrorism laws when he returned.
Police had arrested Walker when he arrived at the airport. They later searched his apartment, turning up a copy of the infamous “Anarchist Cookbook,” which contains bomb-making instructions along with information about how to eavesdrop on phone calls and commit credit card fraud. Walker was accused of violating the Terrorism Act because he possessed information “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.” He faced the possibility of a 10-year jail sentence.
Walker didn’t even possess a physical copy of the book, so to speak. He did what any number of people could have done: downloaded a freely-available PDF and printed it out. Walker downloaded his copy from a local library for use with a role-playing “crisis game” group. He apparently used it to create terrorism scenarios for the group to work with. This was corroborated by statements from other members of the group.
Not wishing to alarm outsiders, the group routinely destroyed its notes and other documents post-game. This was the direct result of being previously reported to the police by a janitor who came across notes the group left behind after role-playing a terrorist attack. Apparently, Walker forgot to toss his printed Anarchist Cookbook PDF into the fire with the rest of the prep materials.
The prosecution claimed Walker retained his copy of the book — again, a book anyone can download from the local library — because he was “curious” about the contents. More ridiculously, the prosecution suggested the printed PDF Walker had in his bedroom “endangered public safety.”
The government apparently wanted to take an actual terrorist fighter down for obtaining a copy of book that’s not actually illegal to possess in the UK. But even the government’s expert witnesses seemed to feel it’s unlikely the book posed any sort of threat.
Walker’s case seemed to strengthen on Wednesday, when Sharon Marie Broome, an explosives expert with the British Ministry of Defence, told the court that while the makeshift explosive instructions in the “Anarchist Cookbook” were “credible,” much of the same information could be obtained from freely available books and academic literature.
Broome said that she had worked for 25 years assessing explosives, sometimes forensically analyzing devices used in real terrorist attacks perpetrated in the U.K. and overseas. Bennathan, Walker’s lawyer, pressed her on whether she had ever encountered a terrorist case that involved the use of the “Anarchist Cookbook.” She could not provide any examples.
Fortunately, there’s a happy ending to this story. Walker was found not guilty by the jury. But that this happened at all should be of concern to anyone who thinks the best way to fight terrorism is by expanding the reach and power of the government. Simply possessing something the government finds objectionable is apparently a criminal act in and of itself, even without any evidence suggesting the contents of the book were going to be used nefariously. Walker won’t be the last person prosecuted for reading “dangerous” things or thinking “dangerous” thoughts. And it’s giving terrorists exactly what they want: a steady pruning of citizens’ rights and protections by fear-fueled legislators.