At least 12 activists have now been charged under SOCPA in connection with the No More Fallujahs Peace Camp and Naming the Dead actions in Parliament Square and Whitehall on 29-30 October 2006. Reports from the actions here.
In a planned act of civil disobedience against the occupation of Iraq, campaigners set up an unauthorised camp in Parliament Square for 24 hours last October. In all, over 100 people took part in workshops and discussions and held 'Naming the Dead' remembrance ceremonies in Parliament Square and Whitehall during the action.
Most of the defendants have been in court over the past two weeks, with the judgements to date illustrating the arbitrary nature of British "justice".
Twelve activists charged
Over the 24 hours of No More Fallujahs, some participants were "reported" under SOCPA, while others were arrested and released. No-one was charged at the time, but Milan Rai and Maya Evans were issued with letters by the police, requiring them to attend Charing Cross Police Station in November. Both were subsequently charged on two counts under SOCPA, namely "organising" and "taking part in" an "unauthorised demonstration". At least 10 other participants received summonses for "taking part" at the beginning of May, more than six months after the demonstration. Under SOCPA Section 132(1)(a), organising an unauthorised demonstration within the designated area around Parliament potentially carries a prison sentence, while the maximum penalty for taking part - Section 132(1)(b) - is a fine of £1,000.
On 18 May, at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court, Milan and Maya, both of whom have previous SOCPA convictions [1 |2] received no fine and no costs when convicted of participating in an unauthorised demonstration [report here], while less than a week later, on 23 May, Gabriel Carlyle and Jan Smith were each fined £100 plus £60 costs in the same court for the same offence even though they have no previous SOCPA convictions.
Milan and Maya were also found guilty on 18 May of organising the demonstration - an offence which can result in a custodial sentence. For this they were fined just £100 each with no costs. To put this in context, Milan was fined £350 with £150 costs when, in April 2006, he became the first person to be convicted under SOCPA for organising a somewhat smaller unauthorised demonstration. Other organisers of the Peace Camp were not charged at all, although several openly admitted their organising roles in a letter to the press. In fact, the organising charge against Milan and Maya had been dropped at an earlier court hearing, but in an administrative cock-up the magistrate on May 18 was unaware of this, and the defendants decided to allow the case against them to go ahead rather than adjourn again to allow clarification to be sought.
Cases still to be heard
A number of other defendants had their cases listed for 23 May along with Gabriel Carlyle and Jan Smith. Their cases were adjourned and all will be heard at later dates.
Martin Newell, recently imprisoned for refusing to pay a fine in connection with another peaceful protest, had his case adjourned to 10am on Tuesday 12 June.
Adam Twine received two summonses for taking part in No More Fallujahs, one relating to Saturday and the other to Sunday. He pleaded by post: guilty to the first and not guilty to the second. The provisional date for his court hearing is 2pm on Tuesday 19 June.
David King will have the date for his case set at a hearing next month.
Steve Barnes, Brian Barlow and Robin Clohesy successfully arranged with the court for their cases to be joined. After reading through the prosecution's evidence, they decided that they did not need their arresting/reporting officers present at the trial, which has been listed for 10am on Friday 14 September.
Genny Bove, who wrote to the court rather than appearing in person, has had her case adjourned, and provisionally linked to the other 14 September cases, subject to her having sight of the prosecution evidence and not requiring the reporting officer present.
At the time of writing, the outcome of one further case is not known. It's possible that there are more cases arising from this action which we aren't aware of.
None of the defendants received bail conditions.
Support the defendants
The No More Fallujahs defendants would welcome support in court, especially Martin and Adam, whose cases are being heard individually on 12 and 19 June. Any changes to court dates or new dates that we become aware of will be posted here.
All cases are to be heard at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court.
A six day peace camp is to be held in Parliament Square from 23-28 June to "celebrate Blair’s departure and to demand: the withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the scrapping of Trident, and a firm public commitment that the UK will not support any future attack on Iran."
"We were all there waiting (five of us including Martin) from 10am... and we were waiting. It then turned out that Martin's trial had been heard in his absence. The court claimed that his name had been called out more than once. Martin spoke to someone at the court to find out what happened and they agreed to let him speak to the Magistrate after the other trials had finished. So Martin went into the court and the rest of us watching from the public gallery. He was told that he had been given a fine+costs of £300. He was given a chance to say what his defence was and although this wasn't a proper trial, under the circumstances Martin did well to present his reasons relating to his beliefs. Martin wanted to get it over that day so did not push for a retrial, and the Magistrate said anyway that he would not be prepared to 'reopen' the case based on Martin's defence."
The previous addition describes how Martin Newell was found guilty in his absence even though he had come to court for the case. Adam's case was just as bizarre, although with a happier outcome.
When he arrived at court, Adam discovered that his case wasn't listed in any of the courts. After a lot of umming and ahing on the part of the court officers - who said first it was in one court, then another, (it turned out to be neither) - court 1 became free just before the end of the day, and the officials hurriedly put together the necessary bods to get the hearing underway: magistrate, clerk, prosecutor and usher.
There seemed to be problems with the CPS/Police evidence: no video, no proof submitted that the demonstration was unauthorised, and lots of shuffling and discussion of printouts from the indymedia website, which presumably would have said that the action was unauthorised. The prosecutor had only just had sight of the prosecution evidence and tried to get an adjournment to give him time to read the papers, but the magistrate refused to adjourn the case. Adam said he was not contesting the fact that he was present at the action.
There was talk about agreeing statements with the defendant, but these would take time to prepare, so after more prevarication it was eventually decided that there was not enough evidence to proceed, the case was dismissed and Adam was free to go.
David King and Genny Bove's cases now seem to have been linked with the others to be heard at 10am/10.15am on 14 September.
Full report here: