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On the Right to Demonstrate.

hesq. | 05.01.2008 01:40 | Analysis | Culture | Repression | London

A look at our right to demonstrate, the importance of dissenting voices and the cornered animal of the government attacks.

In any society the questions of politics should inevitably cause divides, rifts and disagreements between various persons and also various parties; and this would be a healthy political arena, a society where debate and the exchange of ideas and believes could actuate a social evolution, or, what can be called progress.

A functioning democracy needs to have dissenting voices in order to move forward in a positive direction. Only if the ruling elite (the government) become unjustified in their position does debate and protest need to be silenced in order to maintain an otherwise untenable status quo. The irony is that the imposition of such draconian or “Orwellian” measures will often pre-date a widely recognised public consensus to the same effect because it will be precisely those unjustifiable persons in positions of authority that come to realise the untenable nature of their existence in their hearts of hearts before the public do at large and in their panic they will act as all cornered animals do, with violence and attack.

Any attempt to stifle or silence a disagreeing voice is completely anti-democratic and reeks of totalitarianism and fascism in all its ugliness.

25 October 2005:
The first time that an arrest was made for being an organiser of an unauthorised demonstration, an offence which potentially carries a penalty of up to a thousand pounds fine and 51 weeks in prison, was the event that Milan Rai and Maya Evans organised, reading out the names of the dead in Iraq, for which Maya Evans was later convicted. This has since become a somewhat infamous use of the SOCPA 132.
The real question however is not whether someone has the right to protest wherever they deem fit, but who has the authority over other men to disallow them from enacting such a basic human right, not only the right to publicly disagree but the right to freedom of assembly and association (Article 11, UCHR, 1998). So “who has the right to take the right of protest away from another?” Seemingly the Labour party in the UK, and particularly those in leading positions, feel that they have the right to remove the right to free protest from its people.

Of course security we are told is a major factor in this, we are being protected by these limitations to our freedoms and restrictions in our civil liberties…again this reeks, and reminds one of the 1933 Decrees, announced by a democratically elected government acting under a (possibly self-made) state of emergency, restricting basic civil liberties so as better to protect those people from harm and distress, I quote,
“the following is decreed as a defensive measure against communist acts of violence , endangering the state:
Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty [114], on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press [118], on the right of assembly and the right of association [124], and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications [117], and warrants for house-searches [115], orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property [153], are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed”. (February 28th, 1933.)
However, one must be careful in drawing such comparisons because it is less than helpful to fall into the kind of extreme alarmism that in actual fact is the cause of such draconian laws in the first instance. The comparison made above is simply meant to be a reminder that some of the most terrible crimes that have occurred in living memory were begun quite inconspicuously, with the cycle of their terrible progression beginning in legislation.
As a brief aside the whole package of anti-terror laws that have come into effect over the last few years certainly strike terror into the hearts of many British citizens, particularly the Muslim communities who feel – quite rightly I am sure – that they are being singled out and having their rights as human beings violated. The ECHR can be easily waived if the relevant official in authority deems that one person or another is a terrorist – a term, incidentally, that is barely defined in law and has been used in the loosest sense by politicians and come to mean simply an enemy of the state or a person or group which the state allows to be hated, treated outside of law and the ECHR… This is the most important development in the general slide over the last 5 years or so, because scapegoats are always picked out so that the others who are doing the hating of the scapegoat need not change their behaviour or policies, and meanwhile the hate and scapegoating will only increase as solutions do not present themselves through the arbitrary scapegoating…It is a cruel and viscous cycle that is begun…
On the Authorisation of Demonstration and Peaceful Public Protest in Parliament Square – including a radius of 1km,:

Taken from the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, 2005:
“132 Demonstrating without authorisation in designated area
(1) Any person who—
(a) organises a demonstration in a public place in the designated area, or
(b) takes part in a demonstration in a public place in the designated area, or
(c) carries on a demonstration by himself in a public place in the designated area,
is guilty of an offence if, when the demonstration starts, authorisation for the demonstration has not been given under section 134(2). ”

Ultimately it is only a small step in ideological terms from the situation where demonstration is prohibited in certain areas to the more sinister situation where demonstrations could only take place in a few, well defined and government authorised areas and can within the framework of that same logic be extended to all areas of the country… In fact, there is no ideological difference; and any government that believes it has the right to curtail peaceful protest in a so-called democratic has no right to rule that nation, and ought to end up in the courts.
The absurdity of the situation is clear, but the danger remains real. Mark Thomas, a veteran on the campaign trail, has initiated a series of protests to high light just that, the absolute absurdity of the new laws passed under the SOCAP,
“my lawyers delivered a letter to the director of public prosecutions yesterday afternoon calling for an urgent investigation into allegations that the prime minister broke the law by demonstrating unlawfully in Parliament Square last summer…
If the wearing of a brightly coloured proboscis constitutes a protest (the Poppy Appeal charity), then the unveiling of Nelson Mandela's statue must do so too. After all, it celebrated the collapse of apartheid (a political cause), honoured a man who organised the armed struggle in South Africa (definitely political and quite possibly glorifying terrorism), and pledged to fight poverty. So, being civic-minded, I wrote to the police asking if I needed permission for a gathering at the statue. My event had speeches - in fact, they were extracts from the original speeches made on the day by Mr Brown and Mr Mandela. Yes, the police informed me, I did need permission to demonstrate - which I duly applied for and received. Unfortunately for the prime minister, it seems no one bothered to get police approval at the event he spoke at.

Mr Brown, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. One person can constitute a demonstration, but what exactly is a demonstration? In law, there is little to go by, but for various dictionary definitions, such as "an expression of opinion". It is my duty as a law-abiding citizen, therefore, to add to the legal letter served the names of MPs seen holding forth on political issues on College Green, urging the DPP to investigate them for breaking the law and demonstrating without permission. It does not matter that they are being interviewed for news programmes - the law allows no exceptions or exemptions. In fact, the news organisations could be guilty of organising unlawful demonstrations by asking MPs to speak, so I have reported them as well.

All of this may seem ridiculous… ” and yes, it is in fact ridiculous, however there are two sides to every coin. The very ridiculousness of this is a testament to the level of freedom still actually afforded to members of this society at present. However, the other side is that complacency is not advisable, for in a situation where human rights are up on the negotiating table, up for discussion as it were, there ought to be no lapse in a collective and conscious effort to resist any weakening in the laws that protect the absolute rights of every citizen.
Possibly the most sinister aspect to the changes in laws is the increasing marginalization and scapegoating of a chosen minority, a minority who as a nation we have waged a real and cruel war upon.
We can allow no compromise on this issue and as a people we must not give one inch. We have a moral and civic duty to continue to protect and maintain the basic standards of our human rights for all in this nation and all other nations, using in the first instance peaceful protest, assembly and demonstration to bring general attention the times when these inalienable rights are waived and we must continue to do so even if it is made illegal to do so, for we are men and women first, not subjects to a government of questionable moral disposition; and in particular, we must maintain the protests and assemblies on the door step of the forum of our democracy in Parliament Square, before that door is more permanently closed to us.


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