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.

 

RTTV interview on the royal wedding and arrest of UK activists

My inter­view on 29 April 2011 for RTTV about the pre-empt­ive arrests of UK polit­ic­al act­iv­ists in the run-up to the roy­al wed­ding. 

Thoughtcrime appears to have arrived in the UK — and I acci­dent­ally became a roy­al wed­ding com­ment­at­or (sort of). 

Well, nev­er say nev­er in life.…

 

A tale of two countries — pre-emptive policing in Britain and Syria

What a dif­fer­ence a mere month makes in the UK media.  At the end of March The Inde­pend­ent news­pa­per pro­duced this art­icle in the wake of the huge TUC anti-cuts protest in Lon­don, where the Brit­ish Home Sec­ret­ary was cas­tig­ated for con­sid­er­ing great­er police powers to pre­vent such “trouble” again, with par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to the forth­com­ing roy­al wed­ding.

At the time former assist­ant com­mis­sion­er at Scot­land Yard, Andy Hay­man, who had served as the head of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Counter-Ter­ror­ism squad and was, umm,  reportedlymuch-esteemed officer before his early resig­na­tion, adop­ted a mus­cu­lar tone by call­ing for “snatch squads” and “dawn raids” to be car­ried out by police against sus­pec­ted trouble­makers.  How ter­ribly un-Brit­ish.

Per­haps I’m start­ing at shad­ows, but with the above in mind two inter­est­ing aricles appeared in that very same news­pa­per today.

The first art­icle that caught my eye con­firmed there was indeed just such a secur­ity crack­down against sus­pec­ted dis­sid­ents in the UK on the eve of the roy­al wed­ding.  Lynne Owens, the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police assist­ant com­mis­sion­er in charge of the roy­al poli­cing oper­a­tion, is quoted as say­ing:

“We have to be abso­lutely clear. If any­one comes to Lon­don intend­ing to com­mit crim­in­al acts, we will act quickly, robustly and decis­ively.” She said the Met was work­ing with forces across the coun­try and would use “spot­ters” to identi­fy those caus­ing trouble.”

The art­icle goes on to say:

As police teams step up their pro­cess of “pre-event invest­ig­a­tion” and “intel­li­gence gath­er­ing”, reports have come in from pro­test­ers that plain-clothed police are turn­ing up at their homes to warn them against attend­ing Friday’s event.”

Military&pageantryIt seems that the poor old Met is hav­ing con­nip­tions about poten­tially embar­rass­ing pro­test­ers sul­ly­ing the pageantry of the roy­al wed­ding and is put­ting our money where its mouth is.  Last week The Tele­graph also repor­ted that counter-intel­li­gence oper­a­tions were being con­duc­ted against “anarch­ists” to pre­vent trouble on 29th April.

Inter­est­ing use of lan­guage, but I sup­pose that one newspaper’s “pro­test­er” will always be another’s “anarch­ist”.…

So what of the second art­icle that con­cerned me?  This described the bru­tal secur­ity crack­down in Syr­ia, where the secret police were pre-empt­ively hunt­ing down and arrest­ing sus­pec­ted dis­sid­ents:

Syria’s feared secret police raided hun­dreds of homes yes­ter­day as author­it­ies stepped up attempts to crush the pro-reform move­ment.….”

UK For­eign Sec­ret­ary, Wil­li­am Hag­ue is quoted as say­ing that:

Syr­ia is now at a fork in the road… it can choose ever-more viol­ent repres­sion which can only ever bring short-term secur­ity for the author­it­ies there.”

How much more need I say?  Put­ting aside the fact that Hag­ue seems to have acquired his very own fork(ed tongue), the only dis­cern­able dif­fer­ence at this stage is in the sheer scale of the bru­tal­ity and repres­sion, not the mind-set or intent.

It’s a slip­pery slope.….