via The Guardian, Jan 1, 2010:
Terror handbook artist appeals for watchdog's aid
Lord Carlile of Berriew advises Xenofon Kavvadias over freedom of speech project amid threat of arrest
The [UK] government's anti-terror law watchdog has become involved in an artist's attempt to use jihadist handbooks and extremist tracts in his work.
Lord Carlile of Berriew has advised Xenofon Kavvadias after the Metropolitan police warned the Greek artist he could be arrested and prosecuted under the Terrorism Act if he mounts an exhibition featuring texts such as The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Martyrdom Operations, a justification for suicide bombings used by Chechen extremists.
Kavvadias, a graduate of Central St Martins School of Art and Design who has lived in the UK for six years, sought Lord Carlile's advice when he staged his MA degree show, featuring the covers of three extremist texts secured in centimetre-thick clear plastic cases in an attempt to explore the legal boundaries of freedom of expression.
He now wants to install a bookshelf in an art gallery stocked with texts presented in court to secure terrorism convictions. They include Defence of Muslim Lands by Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, a jihadist who influenced Osama bin Laden, The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, which details how to kill using homemade ricin and how to make poisons from tobacco and potatoes, and the Manual of Afghan Jihad (also known as the al-Qaida Manual), which explains how to plan, finance and execute terror attacks.
Courts have handed down custodial sentences for possession of these and similar documents. Last year Khalid Khaliq, a friend of two of the 7 July 2005 suicide bombers, was jailed for 16 months for possession of the al-Qaida Manual.
Kavvadias says he is a pacifist and has no sympathy with Islamist extremism, but wants "to use art to reclaim something that is lost right now: freedom of publishing and freedom of expression".
He argues that most of the texts he proposes to feature are accessible on the internet and is keen to point out that the broad wording of anti-terrorism legislation criminalises thousands of people who have no criminal intent.
The Met's director of legal services told him the police are "duty bound to investigate acts relating to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism … this includes offences about the possession, collection or record-keeping of information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".
However, Carlile, the government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorist legislation since 2005, has offered cautious encouragement to the project. "I am sure there is a visual arts context into which counter-terrorism legislation can be put," he advised. "The best and shortest answer to your question is that you are unlikely to be prosecuted, and if prosecuted not convicted, if you do not break sections 57 and 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 … I am sorry that I cannot answer your question more directly than that, but I am afraid that the law is no less conceptual than fine art."
Carlile told the Guardian: "Nobody is going to give him a yes or a no on any particular item. If he shows anything that shows somebody who does not know how to make a bomb, then that would be a bad decision."
Kavvadias also placed documents in secure cases in a current exhibition at the 10 Vyner Street gallery, east London. Now he wants to have whole books on display with a reading table and public discussion. "I think having these books in a forum like that and in an art context is something essential for an open and free society," he said. "My grand project is to design a library [of banned books] for each country to create a portrait of a country's demons and fears." He said the law as it stands means thousands of people who have downloaded copies of terrorist-related tracts and handbooks, are inadvertently putting themselves at risk of prosecution, even when they don't have any criminal purpose.
Unless he can secure assurances that he will not be prosecuted under laws that proscribe recklessly inciting others to commit terrorist acts, with a maximum jail term of seven years, he will try to stage the show in the Netherlands.