Dozens of renowned British writers came out against new anti-terrorism legislation Sunday, publishing a collection of satire, essays, fiction and poetry to protest a proposal that police be able to hold suspects without charge for up to 42 days.
Forty-two authors including Monica Ali, Julian Barnes, Ian Rankin, Alain de Botton and A.L. Kennedy contributed to a collection posted online a day ahead of a critical parliamentary vote on the issue.
Ali, who won widespread acclaim for her first novel “Brick Lane,” wrote a satirical dialogue between a grandmother and a child who asks whether it's true that “in the olden days” if police arrested you “they had to say what you'd done wrong?”
Linda Grant, short-listed for this year's Mann Booker Prize for “The Clothes on Their Backs,” chose an essay.
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“The nature of democracy and of basic human liberty rests on the fact that you can't be imprisoned unless you have been charged with a crime and convicted of it in the courts,” she writes. “However imperfect the judicial system is in Britain, the courts remain the places where justice is tested – if you have a case, make a charge.”
Novelist Stella Duffy listed things that can take 42 days to do. It included: writing six chapters of her first book; undergoing two rounds of chemotherapy; in-vitro fertilization; and watching the garden change from summer to fall.
The human rights group Liberty coordinated the protest. Director Shami Chakrabarti said no writer approached by the group turned down the opportunity.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently expressed firm commitment to extending the pre-charge detention period from 28 to 42 days. The counterterrorism measure is one of several Britain has considered or adopted since suicide bombers killed 52 rush-hour commuters in 2005. It is expected to meet serious opposition today in the House of Lords. The legislation narrowly made it through the House of Commons this summer.
Europe's top human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, recently said such police power could run afoul of European rights conventions.