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S. J. Parris and Stephanie Merritt

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Jihadis are terrorists. Don’t charge them with treason

Saturday 18th October 2014

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In a timely nod to the season of gunpowder, treason and plot, foreign secretary Philip Hammond has proposed reviving the dormant 1351 Treason Act for British jihadis who swear allegiance to Islamic State (Isis). Backing him on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, Tory MP Philip Hollobone said that the crime of treason requires special treatment because it is “worse than murder”, more or less word for word the tagline on my Tudor crime novel, Treachery. There’s no statement yet on whether Hammond wants to reinstate a scaffold at Tyburn for the purposes of hanging, drawing and quartering traitors, though high treason stillofficially carried the death penalty until 1998.

Despite the swashbuckling resonance of “high treason”, Hammond has a clear precedent in applying it to religious extremists perceived to pose a threat to national security. It was the Tudors who really got creative with the definition of treason. Henry VIII used it as groundsto execute wives he accused of infidelity and their lovers, and also introduced religious nonconformity into the issue by condemning monks who refused to accept his supremacy to a traitor’s death...

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