BRUSSELS, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Belgium’s lower house passed a
controversial bill on Tuesday giving police extra powers to
fight terrorism, to the dismay of human rights lawyers who see
it as a violation of the right to privacy.
The Chamber of Deputies approved the bill by 80 votes to
eight with 37 abstentions, and it now needs to win Senate
approval to pass into law.
It would allow police to raid suspects’ homes at any time of
the day or night, and to carry out certain types of surveillance
without permission from a magistrate.
Police were previously restricted to conducting raids during
the day, and were forbidden to take photographs of suspects
“The old legislation allowed police to look around and see
if a full investigation would be useful,” said Justice Committee
President Fons Borginon. “We now allow them to do that during
The bill was drafted by the federal prosecutor’s office,
which wants to be able to carry out investigations without
having first to go through a cumbersome legal process, and is an
extension to a recent law which made terrorism a crime.
Prosecutors are using the law for the first time in a case
against 13 suspected members of an Islamic militant group called
the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM).
Human rights advocates have criticised the bill, saying it
does not strike the right balance between the protection of
national security and the rights of the individual.
“We think these measures would strike a blow to the right to
defence and to a private life,” said Manuel Lambert, the lawyer
of the Belgian Human Rights League. “It gives too much power to
the police and not enough protection of civil liberties.”
The bill does give defence lawyers greater access to
information gathered by police on suspects, but how much is
revealed, including the names of informants, remains the subject
of debate, a justice official said.