Anti-terror laws used to stifle legitimate protest? Who’d have thought it? Well, everyone, basically, but let’s not be pedantic.
Today’s Guardian front page leads with the story of the Heathrow climate change protest. The headlines are pretty stark:
Police to use terror laws on Heathrow climate protesters
Government has encouraged use of stop and search and detention without charge
This article refers to the incident of Cristina Fraser – a first-year anthropology student and climate change protestor – stopped when cycling near Heathrow airport and charged under section 58 of the Terrorism Act.
“I was arrested and held in a police cell for 30 hours. I was terrified. No one knew where I was. They knew I was not a terrorist,” she said…..
…The police later recharged her with conspiring to cause a public nuisance.
Isn’t a “public nuisance” something like peeing in the street or ranting loudly in a public place? The sort of offence that gets a conditional discharge or a small fine? Still, at least she was charged with a “crime” of sorts, unlike at least half the people detained under the present laws.
30 hours detention? It might not feel like it but she got off lightly. It could have been 28 days. Under the new proposals, the police wouldn’t even need to hurry themselves that much to establish that she wasn’t cycling along, planning to singlehandedly seize a 747 and fly it into Big Ben. They could have taken a leisurely three months to reach that conclusion.
Recent reports of how the existing anti-terror laws are panning out in practice can be found in the Guardian
Powers to stop and search members of the public under terrorism laws will be used increasingly this summer, police said yesterday…… This comes despite a pledge in February that the use of section 44 searches would be scaled back, after complaints from Muslims that they were feeling victimised.
And also despite an awareness in some of the people who have to enforce the law that this sort of thing can be dangerous
Deborah Walsh, deputy head of the CPS’s counter-terrorism division, also acknowledged that excessive use of stop and search powers could be counterproductive. “Inappropriate use of such powers can alienate the community.”
Yesterday’s war-on-terror news was that MOD issues gag on armed forces. As anyone could have foreseen – without resort to any magical prediction skills – the incident of the UK sailors and marines captured by Iraq a few months ago has become the pretext for stopping members of the armed forces from expressing their views in blogs, emails, letters to the press, interviews and apparently even mobile phone pictures sent home.
So the people who are required to risk their own lives in pursuit of the UK’s foreign policies are unable to make their own judgements about what they say? Incapable of expressing their own views about their lives and their roles. Good job this didn’t apply in the first World War or there’d be a whole poetry genre missing.
What about when the gag conflicts with forces’ obligations under the Geneva Convention? (Regarded as outdated and “quaint” by White House Chief Counsel Gonzales) Or even under UK Whistleblower laws? Would we have any idea about Abu Gharaib if someone hadn’t spoken out? D’oh, silly me. So there is a point to all this.