BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina enacted a law on Wednesday providing a wide definition of terrorism that critics fear will allow the state to jail people for up to 15 years for activities as diverse as marching in protests or pulling money out of banks.
The law, approved by Congress last week, seeks to punish anyone who “terrorizes” the population, leaving the definition of the term open.
The government of recently re-elected President Cristina Fernandez says the measure is needed to meet anti-money-laundering standards set forth by the Financial Action Task Force, a multinational policy-making body.
Argentine anti-money-laundering chief Jose Sbatella said recently the measure sought to prevent “any group of economically powerful people from working in concert to wipe out the country’s reserves or from terrorizing the population in a way that it induces them to withdraw all their deposits.”
Legal experts in Argentina says the law’s language leaves the definition of terrorism so open that local courts are sure to strike it down.
“The problem is in the ambiguity,” constitutional lawyer Felix Lon told Reuters.
“It could refer to social protests or a headline published by a newspaper,” he added. “A run on the banks could be considered terrorism.”
Earlier this year, the government slapped controls on foreign currency purchases, widely seen as an effort to stem capital outflows.
Analysts criticized the measure as counter-productive, since it made many depositors nervous and thus more likely to seek safety in U.S. dollars.
In another policy widely criticized as heavy-handed, economists who publish inflation data at odds with the government’s widely discredited monthly consumer price figures are fined by the Fernandez administration.
The president won re-election in October, promising to deepen the unorthodox policies that have made her popular among recipients of generous welfare spending. But business leaders complain about state intervention in the economy.
Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Peter Cooney