The Independent | 20.08.2001 10:02
Our Prime Minister made a fool of himself at the time by instantly supporting the Italian police in Genoa, before he had established any of the facts about the abrogation of the human rights of several British citizens, arrested while they slept.
Police co-operation must not trample on protesters' rights
20 August 2001
One of the surest ways to ensure that Europe-wide policing initiatives are regarded with
suspicion by the public is to try to identify and track small groups of troublemakers within larger,
law-abiding movements. First it was football hooligans, when supra-national efforts were prompted by a riotous confrontation between some England fans and the Belgian police in Charleroi last year. Now it is anti-capitalist protesters. Again, politicians feel impelled to act, because of the televised scenes of mayhem at the summits in Gothenburg and Genoa. Clearly, lessons must be learnt, but our governments seem in danger of learning the wrong ones.
Our Prime Minister made a fool of himself at the time by
instantly supporting the Italian police in Genoa, before he had
established any of the facts about the abrogation of the human
rights of several British citizens, arrested while they slept.
Now, his Home Secretary has lent his support to a new EU
apparatus designed to pool intelligence about violent
protesters. Nothing wrong with that in principle, except that it
must be perfectly obvious that police forces in Britain and
elsewhere do not have much information about the tiny
groupuscules of anarchists and others who are keen on violent
clashes with the authorities. Just as with football supporters,
what such an initiative means in practice is that expensive
surveillance will be carried out on groups of people who are
merely suspected of association with violence. These are
resources which would be much better deployed fighting the
more pressing threat of terrorism from groups such as Eta and
the Real IRA.
The next step will be to deny the right to free movement of
those suspected of doubting the benefits of "globalisation",
which will not prevent violence at summits. Many football
supporters, against whom nothing had been proved, were
prevented from travelling, while some of those who were
allowed through continued to punch, brawl and knife their way
This is a more sensitive point in relation to summit
demonstrations, because those who are not intent on violence
have what should be an inviolable right to free expression.
Many of the protesters' complaints may be ill-defined or
wrong-headed, although the campaign to persuade G8, IMF
and World Bank meetings of the urgency of Third-World debt
relief was justified. But the right to protest should be defended
unto death, not hemmed in and harassed by the agents of the
state, whether operating at a national or a supranational level.
e-mail: luther Blissett@everywhere.cum