The Death of the Freedom Fighter – How the Threat of Terrorism is Suffocating the Protection of Political Criminals

Julia Jansson1
1University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Most past definitions of terrorism have included a political element. What would terrorist acts be without the political/ideological element? Mass killings, hijackings, bombings… ‘Common’ crimes, combined with uncommonly destructive consequences. Based on the findings of my PhD dissertation, I claim that due to the problems related to the political element, the last decades have seen a global trend of depoliticising terrorism for the purpose of international collaboration.

A main reason for the depoliticisation has been the so-called political offence exception to extradition that emerged in extradition treaties in 1834. Because of the exemption, a widely accepted spawn of the revolutionary era, political offenders, in some cases including terrorists, were for a long time protected from extradition.

The aim of the depoliticisation formula was to protect ‘legitimate’ political offenders, but exclude terrorists from the protection of the political offence exemption. Alongside the depoliticisation of terrorism, the political offence exemption was growingly limited since the emergence of the modern terrorist threat in the 1970s.

In addition to the depoliticisation of terrorism, we have witnessed a contradicting trend of repoliticisation, where special anti-terrorist laws and tribunals have been created. The new laws, contrary to the depoliticisation strategy, underline the political nature of terrorism by criminalising acts such as the glorification of terrorism.

I have examined these contrasting trends and offer a critical view of the various implications of both the depoliticisation of terrorism and underlining the political element of it. One of these implications is the decreasing global protection for non-violent political offenders.

Julia Jansson is a Doctor of Laws from the University of Helsinki, Finland. She also holds a Master’s degree in Social Sciences from the same university. Her research interests include political crime, terrorism, international police cooperation and prosecution, as well as police training and education.

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