News and reports on actions and repression related to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and the Parliamentary 'exclusion zone' in central London.
The appeal by Democracy Village after last week's High Court ruling will be heard at 10.30am this Friday (9th July) at the appeals court. In the meantime the camp is still going on strong, having started 'Operation Rolling Thunder', more – an ongoing programme of non-violent direct action. The village is calling out for people to come down and help on multiple fronts: to come and do actions, to help with the site, keep it tidy and maintain the gardens. There is a particular call-out for those with direct action skills and experience.
The Final Nail In The SOCPA Coffin?
In May 2008, following an 18-week trial costing over £4.5 million, the operator of a website criticising animal testing, Sean Kirtley, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for allegedly organising legal protests. He was found guilty under Section 145 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) for "interfering with the contractual relationships of a laboratory" by campaigning against Sequani Limited and its business associates. He was released this month after his appeal was successful.
Solidarity direct action included a Carnival Against Vivisection in September against Sequani and anonymous ALF activists painting a city centre, walls and bridges, liberating hundreds of chickens, redecorating a fur shop, vandalising a hunter's car and sabotaging vending machines (1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5).
Newswire: A letter from Sean Kirtley to Gagged! | "Free Sean" | GSK and Mars vending machines sabotaged | Sean Kirtley's Appeal Launched | ALF Chickin' Nickin' For Sean | Law-lord ruling to free Sean Kirtley? NETCU on the run | Felix Says "Free Sean Kirtley" | Sollidarity actions for Sean Kirtley | Serious Implications for Freedom of Speech as Activist Jailed for 4.5 years | NETCU and Judge Ross crucify civil liberties | Support Freedom of Speech - Support Sean! | Sequani Trial Update - One Remanded - Three not guilty so far... | Jury out to decide the fate of the Sequani Six (longest AR trial in history) | How to be a seriously organised animal rights criminal - Section 145 SOCPA. | The Sequani Six say thanks for the support
Previous feature: Police repression at Sequani demo | World Day for Animals in Laboratories March | Anti-vivisection campaigners convicted of blackmail | Solidarity For Political Prisoner Sean Kirtley | Carnival Against Vivisection | Sequani Besieged by Surprise Action
With only ten days to go before the massive protests against the G20 summit taking place in London, the Parliament's Joint Select Committee on Human Rights accused British police of being heavy-handed, misusing counter-terrorism laws and anti-social behavior legislation when dealing with demonstrators.
"The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right and one that the state and police have a duty to protect and facilitate," said Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon and chair of the committee.
After a year of inquiry, the seventy-page report raised serious concerns about the police forces ability to distinguish appropriate use of the powers they are given. The committee complained that police have been routinely using "legal powers not designed to deal with protests such as anti-social behaviour legislation and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997."
The report was particularly damning regarding the police's abuse of stop-and-search powers to intimidate, unjustifiable seizures of personal property, and improper detention and containment of protesters. The committee's chairman said: "The state must not impose restrictions unless it is necessary, and proportionate, to do so. That is a high threshold. The presumption is in favour of protest without state interference."
Related Indymedia Posts: Police 'turn themselves in' over abuse of power claims | Report into police tactics at Kingsnorth released | Video of police tactics at Kingsnorth | Summer of rage? It's a figment of febrile imaginations | Senior police officer warns of “summer of rage” | Protest against police state | Britain 2009 (are we in a police state?) | Climate Camp Cops feel the heat | Over Policing | Police maintaining special database | Whole TV series on this issue
On Saturday 6th September two hundred activists made it to Ledbury, Herefordshire, for the Carnival Against Vivisection in solidarity with political prisoner Sean Kirtley. The day of action was called by various groups in resistance to the imprisoning of peaceful campaigners under SOCPA legislation, and as a stand for the animals suffering inside vivisection laboratories.
Protesters met on the grass verge, where the police held them allowing a maximum of 15 at a time to demonstrate outside Sequani labs. Shortly after campaigners made a spontaneous break for the labs, with police responding by blocking the bridge to push back the crowd, creating minor scuffles. Multiple attempts were also made to access the labs using various pre-planned routes, meeting police each time, some of which had dogs. Protesters then regrouped at the grass verge to march the original route around town.
Related links: Free Sean Kirtley | Stop Sequani Animal Testing | Antispeciesist Action | Animal Liberation Front | Bite Back | NETCU Watch | FIT watch | Western Animal Rights Network | Indymedia UK Stop Sequani topic page
One of Gordon Brown's first announcements when he became prime minister, was that the state would 'look again' at the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) clauses which affect the right to protest within a kilometer of the Houses of Parliament. Since then, a consultation has been launched by the Home Office, and the closing date for responses is 17/01/08.
Anti-SOCPA campaigners who have studied the proposal are concerned that, rather than leading to a repeal of the relevant clauses of the act, the consultation could lead to an extension of the powers, meaning that any demonstration anywhere in the country would be required to seek police authorisation in advance.
On Saturday, January 12th, in response to a callout from campaigners, demonstrations took place around the UK.
Milton Keynes and Cambridge saw demonstrations in support of the right to protest. In Liverpool civil liberties protesters marched through the town centre and held a demonstration outside the town hall. Welsh activists handed out copies of the consultation paper and held a series of mini protests with locals in Aberystwyth. The monthly peace camp at Aldermaston staged a solidarity 'Freedom of Assembly' demo outside the Atomic Weapons Establishment.
A demonstration in Oxford against a proposed new shopping centre took place in solidarity with the other anti-SOCPA actions as locals took impromptu direct action to prevent the fencing off of the square. In London, where protest is banned within a kilometre of parliament, a procession demonstrated outside several key sites with the SOCPA zone, including the Home Office, New Scotland Yard and MI5. People were arrested for lying down in the road outside Downing Street and at Parliament Square activists were violently removed from the sit in and Brian Haw was assaulted and arrested.
The Home Office has recently published a consultation paper which hints at what was really meant by Gordon Brown's promise to look again at the law which restricts demonstrations near parliament, far from repealing this legislation the consultation indicates that the government wants to extend the restrictions on demonstrations to cover the whole country.
The current law on demonstrations around parliament bans spontaneous protests, requiring demonstrators to seek advance police permission, which allows the police to impose arbitrary limits on numbers and effectively act as political censors. See a timeline of its effects.
A public meeting challenging the new proposal will be held at the London School of Economics on the 2nd December.
On 8th October, the day that the British Parliament resumed after its Summer recess, a thousands of anti-war protesters marched into Parliament Square. They were joined by people who demanded the basic freedom to be able to protest peacefully without prior police permission or conditions.
In the past demonstrators in London have been arrested, charged and fined or imprisoned simply for reading out a list of names or for carrying an innocuous banner, under the draconian SOCPA legislation brought in by Prime Minister Blair's government and carried on by his successor Brown. Since a raid on protesters' legitimate encampment in the Square by Mayor Livingstone's Greater London Authority (GLA) team on 17th August, a surrounding metal barrier has been erected which severely inhibits the ability to demonstrate there.
Timeline: [ 14.55 | 15.40 | 16.15 | 16.30 | 17.15 ]
Video: [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]
Pictures: [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 ]
Texts: [ Monopoly on Protest: Open Letter to CND and the Stop the War Coalition | What's wrong with Stop the War Campaign? | SOCPA - STWC 'ban' was bollocks ]
Gordon Brown is facing an anti-war welcome during his first week in power, with little sign that he will break with Blair's disastrous foreign policy. A War Is Still the Issue camp was set up in Parliament Square from Saturday 23rd [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Video ] (the fact that it was allowed may be a sign that SOCPA will be repealed? ... well, in fact probably not!). There was a demonstration outside Brown's Labour leadership coronation in Manchester on Saturday [ 1 | 2 | 3 ] and a Military Families Against War demonstration took place on his first day as Prime Minister on Wednesday [ Pics ] Later in the evening, a small group of activists braved the rain outside Blair's new Connaught Square home and made neighbours aware of their new resident [ Pics ].
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".
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) is a major piece of legislation, which established the Serious Organised Crime Agency, an FBI-like agency to tackle "serious organised crime", as it says on the box.
People-trafficking, drug wholesaling, violent armed robbery, torture, extortion and murder, is the kind of thing that might spring to mind. The bill, however, was used as an opportunity to deal with issues that might not be considered so serious. It introduced us to ASBO's, for example; outlawed animal activists' "interference with contractual arrangements" and, most pertinently, the right to protest in designated areas without prior permission.
Below is a comprehensive 'diary', put together by IMC UK activists, of events related to SOCPA since it came into force on 1 August, 2005.