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 allowing police 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 if 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.
“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,” Grant 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 made a list of things that can take 42 days to accomplish. It included: writing the first six chapters of her first book; going through two rounds of chemotherapy; undergoing in-vitro fertilization and watching the garden change from summer to autumn.
The human rights group Liberty coordinated the protest. The group’s director, Shami Chakrabarti, said no writer who was approached by the group turned down the opportunity.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently expressed his firm commitment to extending the pre-charge detention period from 28 to 42 days. The counterterrorism measure is one of several that Britain has considered or adopted since suicide bombers killed 52 rush-hour commuters in 2005.
The proposal is expected to meet serious opposition Monday in the House of Lords. The legislation narrowly made it through the House of Commons this summer.
Some police leaders say the measure is needed because terror cases are complex and others say existing powers are strong enough.
Europe’s top human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, recently said such police power could run afoul of European rights conventions.
Kennedy wrote: “In 42 days we will have made you different. You may be charged, you may be released. You will always be different. We will always be in how you think. We do not need to hurt you. We will steal you from yourself.”