the socpa law, which took effect thirteen months ago, has worked well against the sheep. they have either been deterred altogether in the mistaken belief that socpa bans all demonstration around parliament, or they have complied and given all their personal details and asked nicely for 'authorisation' from the police, and then followed any conditions imposed and behaved like good citizens, decrying genocide and war crimes for their allotted one or two hours in their allotted protest zone.
a few - actually quite a few! - have challenged this supposedly innocuous legislation, and in doing so they have often revealed the real truth of this law. this administration dearly wanted to be rid of brian haw, the 'lone' protestor with his placards in parliament square. this administration wanted to silence the voices of people who woke up to what was being done in our name, the national and international policies responsible for murdering women and children on an unimaginable and unprecedented scale. this administration wanted to control the dissenters, the ones who pointed to our double-think law-makers with their self-generated fears of terrorism and fundamentalism requiring us to "give up our freedoms in order to preserve our freedom".
what our government really wanted was a draconian ban on free speech. but this would have fallen foul of human rights and international laws. so instead they put together this ridiculous socpa legislation, slipping some clauses about protest into legislation designed to fight serious organised crime. in doing so, they have created a mess. the law, as it stands is very nearly unenforceable. it has never been used on a mass scale to arrest demonstrators. instead it has been applied in targeted ways with clearly political motivation, and backed up with harrassment, bullying, and organised law-breaking by the authorities.
many of you will know the history of brian haw's historic vigil since 2001 in parliament square. after a high court ruling that the law could not be applied retrospectively, for the first seven months of socpa there was the farcical situation that brian's demo was the ONLY one that didn't require authorisation by the police. in the first week of august last year, a dozen people were arrested at mass demos against the new law. ten of these ended up in court, were found guilty and are appealing. one has already been acquitted after police failed to present any evidence on appeal (www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/04/337934.html). maya evans and milan rai attracted much media attention after a guilty verdict relating to their peaceful 'naming of the dead' ceremony. both are appealing the verdicts on human rights grounds. in more than a year there have been only a few dozen arrests, and most if not all are being appealed on various grounds.
certainly a pattern has emerged that the police do not arrest high profile people who break this law. for instance, leading lights of the stop the war coalition have been spared while those around them at the same protest have been arrested. mp jeremy corbyn has freely attended and illegally used a megaphone at several 'unauthorised' demos, and yet other participants have ended up in court. police also seem to avoid demos that have media coverage. in april a huge 'naming the dead' ceremony in defiance of the law was left alone by police, perhaps because of media coverage and high-profile participants. last month an early morning blockade of the foreign office resulted in just five arrests for 'suspected criminal damage' - again the media were there.
in may the government appeal against the high court ruling on brian haw was finally won. this meant that brian's demo was officially covered by socpa legislation and so he would have to give notice seven days prior to commencement and then abide by police conditions laid down. the high court ruling somehow managed to ignore the logical and temporal difficulty of giving prior notice - brian's demo began in 2001! as to the conditions, despite very clear guidelines in the act as to what the police are entitled to impose, after the ruling they immediately laid out a severe set of restrictions on brian's activities, and even as his solicitors were attempting to negotiate over these, a night-time police operation costing £28,000 arbitrarily enforced the conditions and removed most of the protest, many personal belongings and even some legal papers ( http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/05/340346.html).
brian is due in court to face charges of breach of conditions later this month, but tomorrow 5th september, he will appear at marylebone magistrates court and his solicitors will be seeking postponement of this trial on two grounds. the most important of these is because they are seeking a judicial review of the police behaviour - whether the conditions imposed by police were lawful within the terms of the act, and whether the police were within their power to swoop and confiscate brian's display before the judicial process was exhausted. there is also a procedural matter that amongst the items confiscated were legal documents, evidence for the defence, private letters, and so on. the fact that these items are now in the hands of the prosecution casts doubt on the lawfulness of any trial and certainly prevents brian from preparing a defence before the scheduled 12th september hearing..
BRIAN HAW APPEARS AT MARYLEBONE MAGISTRATES COURT TUESDAY 5TH SEPTEMBER AT 2PM - SUPPORTERS ARE VERY WELCOME FROM 1.30PM OUTSIDE, AND THE HEARING IS PUBLIC.
181 Marylebone Road London NW1 5QJ - Marylebone Tube Station (also near Baker Street and Edgware Road)
another campaigner against socpa has been a continual thorn in the side of the authorities. barbara tucker joined brian haw's demonstration towards the end of last year, and she also notified the police as required under the act of her own ongoing one-woman-with-placard protest anywhere within the designated area. over the past ten months, she has been 'reported to the crown prosecution service for possible summons under the socpa act' more than fifty times. the police have consistently failed to 'authorise' her protest as required by the law, and then after she started to bring charges of unlawful arrest, assault, and harrassment against them, they have claimed her notification was not legal.
but now they have started trying to use different laws to deter her. in the last few weeks this has reached a crescendo of desperation. on the 5th august (the day of the national march against the israeli occupation of palestine) she stood outside downing street with her violently pink placard "blair's genocide" which features photographs of civilian deaths in his aggressive wars. this spot has been the scene of several police assaults against her and her friend steve jago documented previously on indymedia (www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/07/344006.html and sub-links). but on this occasion, police tried to arrest her under a public order act, claiming that her photos were causing alarm and distress to members of the public. a supporter asked amongst the crowd that was forming and no-one announced that they were alarmed or distressed other than by tony blair. realising that with such witnesses the police prosecution would fail, they tried a different tack and arrested her anyway under the old chestnut 'obstruction'. she was taken to kentish town police station and left handcuffed tightly behind her back for several hours - an abuse of the police and criminal evidence act and a mild form of torture.
a couple of days ago, she was outside downing street again, peacefully standing with her genocide banner. she was approached by two officers who started to engage her in conversation, asking her about tony blair's 'security' and the dangers of terrorism. some sri lankan protestors recognised that the officers were wired for sound and warned her. it appears likely they were trying to entrap her into making some statement that might be used in evidence for a terrorism act prosecution.
but the most bizarre attempt yet was yesterday afternoon. once again she and steve were outside downing street. this time they were approached by an officer who identified himself as from 'central ops'. he claimed that her photographs were offensive and he threatened that if she didn't leave she would be 'sectioned under the mental health act' adding that this was for her own protection as there was a danger someone might whack her. barbara is quite practised at kicking up a fuss when police start behaving badly and as a crowd developed, two sergeants appeared from charing cross. discussions were held behind the gates at downing street, and eventually the police backed down. this was not before it was let slip that the 'central ops' person was seconded to charing cross.
so it seems that the charing cross menu of lies and distortions, of intimidation and threats, of stupidity and incompetence, continues against barbara and others who want to peacefully protest. her own lawyers will one day reveal all this in court and if there is any justice, sackings will result.
i am expecting to have some photos from yesterday to post soon, but here's one last update. this afternoon barbara had to attend charing cross on bail for her ridiculous 'obstruction' charge. this was at one o clock. steve jago went with her and confused reports are that he has been arrested for trying to film in the police station. (understandably, they try to document all dealings with the police nowadays!).
at time of publishing 17:50, there is no further news, which means they have been held for several hours on what should have been a short bail appearance). i'll post more news when i have it.
the plain clothes police admitted that they were concerned to get barbara and steve out of public view, and still concerned at the implication, steve tried to stand in order to identify the custody sergeant. he was pushed down. standing again, he was pushed once more. next thing was that his legs have been swiped from under him and he was thrown down so his back hit the bench. one of the plain clothes was stabbing at a point behind his ear, possibly with a finger or something like a pen. this caused bleeding which left a pool of blood on the floor. steve's left hand was also forced back so violently with the 'duck neck' hold, that it went numb. the police removed him to a cell after this show of strength and then walked out calmly with their backs to him, clearly not frightened that he might retaliate or be violent. this is not a surprise to me as i have seen steve assaulted by police on previous occasions and although he strongly and passively resists any unlawful actions, he is always totally peaceful.
tonight barbara is still in custody, having been held all day. although there is some confusion, it seems as though police have charged her with obstructing an officer in the course of their duty and are holding her overnight to appear before a judge in the morning.
steve himself has just been released, but is bailed to return on the 14th october to face a possible charge of obstructing a police officer.
his solicitor has applied for cctv footage of today's incidents with a view to pressing criminal charges against charing cross police.