European Union government ministers met in Paris Jan. 11 to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But there is an Orwellian aspect to their reaction. A joint statement (PDF) issued by twelve EU interior ministers, including Bernard Cazeneuve of France and UK Home Secretary Theresa May, included the following text: "We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence... With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible." In other words, pressure on ISPs to shut down websites deemed objectionable by EU ministries, and rat out their producers to the Euro-cops—a notion rendered especially problematic due to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism." (To provide just a few examples, see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.) The statement was signed in the presence of US Attorney General Eric Holder. (Global Guerrillas, Jan. 12; The Register, Jan. 11)
By now we've all heard. Gunmen today shot dead 12 people at the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, apparently while shouting "Allahu Akbar" and "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!" Editor Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier is among the dead; he had received death threats in the past and was living under police protection. Charlie Hebdo’s offices were bombed in 2011, after the magazine released an issue in which the Prophet Muhammed was satirically billed as "guest editor." The issue included cartoons lampooning Muhammed and was redubbed "Charia Hebdo," a reference to Shariah law. The new attack is said to be the deadliest in France since 1961, when rightists who opposed Algerian independence bombed a train, killing 28 people. (BBC News, NYT)
An arsonist set fire to a mosque in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna Dec. 25, injuring five people. Some 20 worshippers were attending midday prayers when the fire broke out. Police said the blaze began when assailants hurled an incendiary device through a window of the mosque, on the ground floor of a residential building. The attack comes amid a fierce debate in Sweden over immigration policy. The far right wants to cut the number of asylum-seekers allowed into Sweden by 90%. On Dec. 3, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats brought down the minority governing coalition after it had been in power for just 10 weeks, refusing to support its proposed budget and forcing a special election. The new election is scheduled for March. (BBC News, Al Jazeera, Dec. 15; EurActiv, Dec. 18; Daily Mail, Dec. 3)
France is boosting police patrols and mobilizing army troops over the Christmas holiday following a string of three seemingly unrelated attacks. A man died from injuries suffered Dec. 22 in Nantes, when a van plowed into shoppers at an outdoor Christmas market. The driver stabbed himself after the incident, but is expected to survive. The day before in Dijon, a driver shouting "Allahu Akbar" ploughed into pedestrians, injuring 13. The day before that, a man issued the same war-cry as he attacked police with a knife in Joue-les-Tours, before being gunned down. French media are emphasizing that ISIS issued a call urging Muslims around the world to kill "in any manner" people from countries in the anti-ISIS military coalition, especially singling out the French. Among the helpful suggestions from ISIS was "run them over with your car." (BBC News, BBC News, RFI, CNN, France24)
Spain's conservative-led parliament, the Cortes, passed an anti-protest bill on Dec. 11 despite harsh criticism from opposition politicians and activist groups, who say it violates the right to demonstrate, limits freedom of expression, and gives undue power to police. The measure, dubbed the "Ley Mordaza" (Gag Law), limits demonstrations to officially permiited gatherings and imposes heavy fines on unauthorized protesters. It also bans taking photos of police during protest demonstrations. Spain has seen a rising tide of mostly peaceful street protests and strikes against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's austerity program, which includes harsh cuts to public health and education.
The UK's body on strengthening devolution, the Smith Commission, concluded Nov. 27 that Scotland's parliament should have more independence in certain matters. The commission, set up by Prime Minister David Cameron, recommended that Scotland's parliament have the power to set income tax rates, voting age, welfare payments; and a consultative role in reviewing the BBC Charter. The announcement follows Scotland's vote against independence in September. While Scotland's government welcomed the announcement, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon found the commission's decision disappointing as the Scottish parliament would still be responsible for less than half of the money the country will spend.
UK Home Secretary Theresa May on Nov. 24 outlined the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill to combat ongoing national security threats. The bill will expand the power of authorities to suspend outgoing and incoming international travel of persons that are reasonably believed to be traveling to commit terrorism. The legislation will also broaden the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) to allow authorities to force terrorist suspects to relocate within the country and will raise the burden of proof for TPIMs from a "reasonable belief" to a "balance of probabilities." May stressed the importance of bridging the "capabilities gap" that authorities must confront when dealing with communications data and announced that the bill will require Internet providers to retain IP addresses "to identify individual users of internet services," with some limitations. May urged the need for this legislation in response to new threats from the Islamic State (IS) and other established terrorist groups abroad.
The Spanish Constitutional Court on Nov. 4 suspended (PDF) the Catalonia region's upcoming symbolic vote to gauge public sentiment for independence. The unanimous decision to hear the government's appeal effectively bans the vote until the parties present arguments and the court makes a ruling. This vote was planned as an alternative to a referendum on independence that the court suspended in September. The decision was based on Article 161.2 of the Spanish Constitution, which states that the government can appeal resolutions and provisions adopted by the "autonomous communities" of Spain. As more than two million Catalans planned to vote on Nov. 9, and extensive plans had already been made, the Catalan government intends to proceed with the vote despite the constitutional court's ruling.