Aussie laws 'like apartheid'

2005-10-24 12:09

Sydney - Nobel Prize-winning author JM Coetzee has likened controversial new anti-terrorism laws proposed by Australia's government to apartheid-era human rights abuses in his native South Africa, The Australian newspaper reported on Monday.

Coetzee, who moved to Australia in 2002, "launched a thinly veiled attack" on the legislation due to go to parliament next week during a public reading at the National Library in Canberra on Sunday, the newspaper said.

"I used to think that the people who created (South Africa's) laws that effectively suspended the rule of law were moral barbarians," Coetzee was quoted as saying.

"Now I know they were just pioneers ahead of their time."

Preparing to read from his 1980 anti-apartheid novel Waiting for the Barbarians, Coetzee said South African security police in the 1970s could arrest and detain people without explanation "and do what they wanted" with them "because special provisions of the legislation indemnified them in advance".

"All of this, and much more during apartheid in South Africa, was done in the name of the fight against terror," said the 2003 Nobel laureate.

While Coetzee was not quoted specifically referring to Australia, his description of apartheid-era laws echoed details of the new anti-terrorism legislation being put forward by Prime Minister John Howard.

The draft laws would expand police powers to arrest and hold suspects preventively and in secret, imposing penalties on reporters or members of the suspects' families who publicise their situation.

If the suspect was aged between 16 and 18, only one parent would be informed of the reason for his detention and they could be jailed for up to five years if they tell the other parent why the minor had been arrested.

Coetzee's description of apartheid-era South Africa had a similar ring.

"If somebody telephoned a reporter and said, 'Tell the world - some men came last night, took my husband, my son, my father away, I don't know who they were, they didn't give names, they had guns', the next thing that happened would be that you and the reporter in question would be brought into custody for furthering the aims of the proscribed organisation endangering the security of the state," he said.

Howard, who is due to discuss possible changes to the legislation in meetings this week before the law is formally submitted to parliament, denied over the weekend that the new measures would contravene human rights.

"I am confident the legislation has all the right balances and the right protections and the right safeguards," Howard said.

Coetzee, who rarely speaks to the media, refused to elaborate when asked for further comment on his remarks by a reporter for The Australian, the newspaper said.