Hezbollah: Time to spike the terrorists’ guns

Terror organisation Hezbollah has consistently rejected any notion of separate “wings” yet the group is not completely proscribed under current UK law.

July 19, 2017 11:18
On 18 June, just 15 days after the terror attack at London Bridge, the flag of Hezbollah was paraded through the capital at the annual Al-Quds Day March, without police intervention.
Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia group, was established in the early 1980s, with the initial aim of driving foreign forces out of Lebanon. Its bombing of French and American bases in Beirut in 1983 claimed 299 lives. It is best known for its hostility towards Israel, culminating in the ruinous 2006 war.
The organisation’s militaristic emblem, featuring a machine gun brandished aloft, requires little commentary. Nor does its track record of terrorist and criminal activity across the globe. However, since 1992, it has participated in elections in Lebanon, where it holds government positions. It also provides social welfare.
Consequently, it is not completely proscribed under current UK law.
Under section 1 of the 2000 Terrorism Act, “terrorism” has a three-part definition. It comprises of: the “use or threat of action” involving “serious violence”; “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause”; which is “designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation”.
Under section 3, a group is proscribed if it is listed in Schedule 2 of the Act. Section 13(1) makes it an offence for a person, in a public place, to wear an item of clothing, or to wear, carry or display an “article” (which clearly includes a flag) “in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”.
On a plain reading of these provisions, Hezbollah is clearly “proscribable”. Equally, it seems it should be an arrestable offence to display the Hezbollah flag in public.
The latter is not the case, however, because UK legislation distinguishes between Hezbollah’s (supposed) “military” and “political” wings.
Hezbollah was not included within the original Schedule 2, which comprised solely of groups linked to Northern Ireland. The “Hezbollah External Security Organisation” was added in 2001. In 2008, this wording was replaced by a reference to the “military wing of Hezbollah, including the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it (including the Hezbollah External Security Organisation)”. The other “wings” — its MPs, government ministers and social welfare activities — are not proscribed.
The consequences of this distinction were clearly seen on Al-Quds Day when, as in previous years, Hezbollah flags and other articles were paraded through central London. No arrests were made. Since all “wings” share the emblem, the police appear not to see its display as constituting an offence under section 13 of the Act.
Arguments for maintaining the distinction are not persuasive. There is no consistent international approach: while some countries (and the EU) ban only Hezbollah’s political “wing”, the group is banned entirely in others, including the United States.
If the reason for the distinction was to facilitate UK government contact with Hezbollah’s political “wing”, there was no such contact as late as 2013. If the aim was to encourage Hezbollah to disarm and embrace democratic politics, this has clearly failed.
Most importantly, Hezbollah itself has consistently rejected any notion of separate “wings”. An early document stated: “Our military apparatus is not separate from our overall social fabric. Each of us is a fighting soldier”.
In 2013, Hezbollah’s political affairs official, Ammar Moussawi, said: “Everyone is aware of the fact that Hezbollah is one body and one entity. Its military and political wings are unified.”
Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, settled the matter beyond doubt with this 2013 statement: “However, jokingly I will say — though I disagree on such separation or division— that I suggest that our ministers in the upcoming Lebanese government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.”
In the light of such statements, the distinction in UK legislation seems untenable. Since the Al Quds Day march, there have been calls from Conservative and Labour figures for Hezbollah to be proscribed entirely. It is to be hoped the Home Secretary will now do so.
James Mendelsohn is a senior law lecturer at the University of Huddersfield
July 19, 2017 11:18

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