So wasn’t the royal wedding lovely?

Well, yes, for some per­haps, and no doubt for the happy couple.

How­ever, oth­ers spent the glor­i­ous day in a bare, con­crete police cell, pre-emptively arres­ted for what they might do and untrace­able to their loved ones and law­yers.  Effect­ively they were “dis­ap­peared”, taken off the streets in case they uttered some­thing that might mar the great day or, heaven for­bid, caused some embarrassment.

A few days ago I wrote a piece high­light­ing my con­cerns about the threatened secur­ity response to pos­sible pro­test­ers — draw­ing com­par­is­ons with the mind­set, if not the viol­ent tac­tics, of the thugs in Syria’s secur­ity appar­atus.  But still, in some deep recess of my mind and against all the accu­mu­lated evid­ence from my last 15 years, I found I still had an emo­tional, resid­ual echo of the notion of Brit­ish fair play that, really, we don’t do those kinds of things in the UK.  Well, then I was a child, and spoke as a child.… 

In the run up to the happy nup­tials, the Met­ro­pol­itan Police stated that it had no spe­cific intel­li­gence of any ter­ror­ist threat from either dis­sid­ent Irish repub­lic­ans, nor from any pos­sible group­ing emer­ging from the Middle East.  Des­pite this, the secur­ity forces had launched a massive intelligence-gathering oper­a­tion to hunt down known “anarch­ists” who might want to voice their protest against the concept of the mon­archy.  Act­iv­ist pages on Face­book were sud­denly deleted with no warn­ing, but the com­pany said it was because of regis­tra­tion issues, and not because of the police.

Yes, there may well have been some who wanted to cause viol­ence — after which they could have been arres­ted legit­im­ately under the terms of the law .  How­ever, what the police did in this case was in an alto­gether dif­fer­ent league.  Using the meth­od­o­logy if not the bru­tal­ity of the Syr­ian mukhabarat, they organ­ised house raids and snatch squads.  They banned cer­tain act­iv­ists from Lon­don, and arres­ted oth­ers both in the days before the wed­ding and on the day itself. 

Those caught in the secur­ity sweep included a Pro­fessor of Anthro­po­logy, Chris Knight, and his friends who were plan­ning a bit of mildly amus­ing street theatre involving a fake guil­lot­ine and a Prince Andrew dummy (is that tautologous?).

Oth­ers swept up by the secur­ity forces included a bunch of envir­on­ment­al­ist squat­ters who were busily tend­ing their mar­ket garden, accord­ing to rightly con­cerned MP John McDon­nell, and some ran­dom “zom­bies” who wanted to go to an altern­at­ive “not the royal wed­ding” garden party.  Hardly the stuff of revolu­tion­ary nightmares.

Hug_the_Police2And then there’s the case of Charlie Veitch, now denounced across the UK media as the known anarch­ist. Yes, Charlie is anti-royalist and wanted to voice his views, but he runs an internationally-known act­iv­ist organ­isa­tion called the Love Police, for chris­sakes.  The peace­ful inten­tions of the organ­isa­tion might pos­sibly be given away by the name.…

So what happened? On Thursday even­ing two police officers, tooled up with proto-Borg tech, muscled their way into the Cam­bridge home he shares with his girl­friend, Silkie Carlo, declar­ing that they were there to arrest him and search the place. They had the pres­ence of mind to film the whole pro­cess and ask some per­tin­ent questions.

Charlie’s alleged pre-crime?  That he had pos­ted a fright­en­ingly pres­ci­ent video on You­tube say­ing that he thought he was being spied on, but still cri­tiquing the royal wed­ding and sug­gest­ing that fel­low act­iv­ists get together in Soho Square, Lon­don (quite a dis­tance away from the fest­iv­it­ies) on the day.  OK, so he had a bit of a rant — but that’s what people do on You­tube.  Agree with him or strongly dis­agree, it’s called his free­dom of expres­sion — a much-vaunted, tra­di­tional Brit­ish liberty. 

But in the eyes of the police, appar­ently he was “con­spir­ing to cause a pos­sible breach of the peace”, and needed to be locked up.   It’s like we’ve time-travelled back to pre-revolutionary 18th cen­tury France, where the king could issue a lettre de cachet to send people to the Bastille.

So at the very time that Prince Wil­liam and his blush­ing bride were cre­ated Duke and Duch­ess of Cam­bridge, a Brit­ish cit­izen was raided, locked up and hid­den away in a police cell in that very city for exer­cising free speech. 

On Thursday night he was hauled off to the Cam­bridge nick, which then refused to con­firm to his under­stand­ably upset girl­friend where he was being held, before being transfered to the Met Police on Fri­day morn­ing and held incom­mu­nic­ado for the rest of the day.  Fam­ily and law­yers then appar­ently spent fruit­less hours ringing around all the Lon­don police sta­tions try­ing to track him down.  So Charlie had effect­ively been “dis­ap­peared”, like a dis­sid­ent in a total­it­arian régime.

So let’s get this straight — we’re talk­ing about the Met­ro­pol­itan Police spy­ing on known act­iv­ists (as we all now know they do, after the under­cover cop scan­dal earlier this year) to pre­vent them from express­ing their legit­im­ate polit­ical views about the wed­ding of Kate and Wills.  The secur­ity forces had already stated that there was no spe­cific ter­ror­ist threat, so this was all about pre­vent­ing an embar­rass­ing incid­ent on the big day.  And I’m sorry, but I don’t think that Pre­ven­tion of Embar­rass­ment is covered by the legal code.

Plus, these arrests were pre-emptive to stop a pos­sible crime which might be com­mit­ted — and let’s face it, only breach of the peace at that.  Not a biggy.

So we are basic­ally look­ing at the police spy­ing on and then pre-emptively arrest­ing cam­paign­ers for being poten­tial dis­sid­ents, for ThoughtCrime.  How much more Orwellian can it get?

I men­tioned the tac­tics of the Syr­ian secur­ity forces and their bru­tal crack-down.  I’ve also pre­vi­ously writ­ten about how the slide towards fas­cism began in Ger­many in the 1930s with the bru­tal­isa­tion of internal oppos­i­tion­ists and dissidents . 

So let’s really stop and think about this — do we really want to let these early indic­a­tions slide by, uncon­tested? After all, we have the Olympics and the Dia­mond Jubilee next year, and no doubt the same, or exten­ded, powers will come into force.  How far will we let it go before we wake up to the threat?

As I’ve writ­ten before, with thanks to Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoeller:

First they came for the Irish in the 1980s,

But I was not Irish so I did not speak up.

Then they came for the Muslims after 9/11,

But I was not a Muslim, so I did not speak up.

Then they came for the “domestic extremists”,

But I was not an act­iv­ist, so I did not speak up.

Then they came for me;

and there was nobody left to speak up for me.

 

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