Friday, January 29, 2010

Photographers protest at terror law abuse

By Caroline Colebrook

SEVERAL thousand photographers – amateur and professional – assembled in Trafalgar Square last Saturday to protest at the continuing police use of anti-terrorist laws to stop and arrest just about anyone using a camera in a public place.
Normally Westminster is thronged with tourists and journalists taking pictures of the sights, the famous buildings and the political and show-business comings and goings and events.
Almost everyone is carrying a camera if you count those included in mobile phones and there are thousands of sights worth snapping in central London.
Now they are all at risk of being arbitrarily stopped, questioned and having their cameras confiscated because of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Since a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, police are not supposed to stop ordinary members of the public, including journalists, going about their business unless there is some reason to suspect they may be terrorists surveying a potential target.
Senior police have acknowledged this and sent memos to the constables on the beat but these memos are being ignored and photographers are still being stopped for taking pictures of sunsets over the river.
Waving placards with the message, “I am a photographer, not a terrorist,” the protesters called for an end to the arbitrary stopping and obstructing of photographers.
“We’re coming together to show solidarity and to show that we won’t be intimidated,” said Jonathan Warren, a freelance photographer and one of the founders of the campaign group.
Warren said he was approached by police a couple of years ago while covering an anti-arms protest.
“I was waiting for the protest to start when I was stopped and searched, even though I had my press card and was an accredited photographer,” Warren said.
“I showed it to the police, and they didn’t believe me. They went through my bag and my pockets,” he said.
Organiser Marc Vallee, a freelance photographer, said: “It’s a common law right to take pictures in public places and we are here to show that.”
Britain’s terrorism laws were dealt a blow last week when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that stop-and-search powers under Section 44 of the Act were a breach of human rights.
The ruling came after lengthy legal fight by two people who were stopped and searched on their way to a London demonstration.
The court found that the “coercive powers” of the anti-terrorism legislation amounted to a clear interference with the right to respect for private life. The Government is appealing the decision, saying the powers are an important tool in the fight against terrorism.
Another founding member of “I’m a photographer, not a terrorist,” freelance photographer Jess Hurd, felt that she too had been unfairly stopped under Section 44.
She said these random checks have affected photographers’ ability to work. “I was stopped last year for 45 minutes covering a traveller wedding,” the freelance photographer said.
“Everyone, if they haven’t been stopped already, knows someone who has been. This is becoming a problem. People stopped over sunsets at St Paul’s, chip shops, roundabouts – it’s getting a bit crazy. “I would personally like a repeal of this law,” Hurd said.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that the terrorism act is being used to stop photographers from doing their job,” said another participant, freelance photographer Adam Woolfitt.
“My message is stop. Leave us alone,” Woolfitt said. “We’ve got a job to do.”
Meanwhile the police in Britain are planning to use unmanned spy drones, of the type that have been deployed in Afghanistan, to routinely monitor protesters, antisocial motorists, agricultural thieves and fly tippers.
The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are produce by BAe Systems for use in war zones. Now the company is producing a modified version for a consortium of Government bodies, led by Kent police.
They are expected to be in use before the 2012 Olympics.
Kent police have told the Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates airspace over the country, that civilian UAVs will greatly extend the Government’s surveillance capacity and “revolutionise policing”.
The plan is being developed by the South Coast Partnership, a Home Office backed project, which is led by the Kent police. Police have discussed selling the surveillance data to private companies.
The first test flights are due to happen later this year.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gaza Victims Remembered!

by Karen Dabrowska

MORE THAN 150 protesters holding large sheets of paper with the names of the 1,417 victims of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza in late 2008, observed five minutes of silence in London’s Trafalgar Square last Saturday.
The protesters were flanked by a large slogan: “1417 is not just a number, it is the number of Palestinian men women and children killed by the Israelis”. After the five minutes of silence they chanted “long live Palestine, from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” and “Gaza don’t you cry, we will never let you die”. A similar protest was held in Turkey and messages of support were received from Iran.
The protest was part of the activities of Palestinian Memorial Week, including exhibitions, films and talks, called to mark the 1st anniversary of the Gaza War by the Palestine Return Centre, along with a number of other Palestinian and Muslim organisations as well as the Russell Tribunal and the student council of Goldsmith University. The organisers of the London protest are also calling for a boycott of Israeli products sold in British supermarkets
In Trafalgar Square the protesters were addressed by a Palestinian woman who lost members of her family in the latest Gaza war. “The victims are people like yourselves”, Manal said. Struggling to hold back her tears she told the protesters that when she looked at them she felt she was looking at her family.
Manal spoke about how her auntie survived the war but subsequently died in the shelter due to a lack of medicine.
“I don’t believe in politicians, I believe in shared humanity. Everyone needs to be treated with respect. Peace is coming through people not the politicians. We need to make sure the names we are reading today will not be repeated. We need to go to the Holy Land and tell the people we share their humanity. We go to Spain and France so why don’t we go to the Holy Land to see the truth”.
Many of the protesters were motivated by a sense of injustice about what is happening to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
“I came here to show my solidarity with the Palestinian people. I feel that they are being ignored. This is the least I can do”, said Steven Murphy, a picture framer.
Anthony Timmins, an American poet, said he wanted the people of Palestine to be reassured that they were not forgotten, while Eddie Powell, a British pensioner, said that he wanted to add his voice to the growing voices in Britain against the policies of the Israelis. “This movement is growing and gaining strength and I want to add my support”, he said.
Huma, an artist and dancer of Irish and Pakistani origin, said she felt a deep sense of anger at the British government and other governments for allowing the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians to continue. “The Israelis speak of the rockets that were fired into their territories but they have responded with white phosphorous. The more I read about what is happening, the more I talk to people who have been to the occupied territories the more appalled I become. Palestinian homes are being destroyed and settlers are encouraged to move in. We also have to support Israeli peace groups who are against what is happening”.
Emilie, a teacher of Latin, said that the human rights violations of the Palestinian people have been going on for 60 years. She pointed out that lawyers have described everything that is going on in Gaza as a war crime.
Andrew Medhurst, a banker, said : “I am appalled that the British government is either too scared or has an agenda which means it can’t criticise the Israelis. Everybody needs to say this is not right and put pressure on the government”. His daughter compared the damage to Gaza to the damage caused by the earthquake in Haiti. “But Gaza could have been avoided”, her father added.

The speakers drew attention to the following facts:

• 1,440 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, with over 5,000 wounded and 50,000 displaced;
• On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and three civilians killed;
• 90 – 95 per cent of Gaza’s water fails to meet WHO standards;
• According to the UN, Gaza is undergoing “a process of de-development” with terrible consequences;
• More than 4,000 buildings destroyed in Gaza, more than 20,000 severely damaged;
• Redevelopment is almost impossible due to the embargo on construction materials;
• Unemployment is endemic while the siege is devastating the lives of civilians;
• According to the Goldstone Report the Israeli Defence Forces committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity;
• The Israeli military offensive was disproportionate and directed against civilians.

Palestinian Memorial Week was launched at a meeting in central London on 13th January with speeches by Ghasan Faour of the Palestinian Return Centre, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Afif Safieh a former Palestinian ambassador to the UK, film director Ken Loach, Middle East consultant Peter Eyre and Obada Swalha of the Palestinian Forum in Britain.
Ghasan Faour described the war on Gaza as a watershed which led to a more vocal outcry than is usually witnessed when the Palestinians are subjected to hostilities. But he emphasised that last year’s war was only one of many atrocities perpetrated against the Palestinian people.
Sixty years of aggression and countless violations of international law are evidence of Israel’s ideology and a political programme that seeks to deny the Palestinians their basic humanity. But the time is coming when morality, justice and law will come to the aid of the Palestinians. The time is coming when the criminals will be brought to justice as seen by the issuing of arrest warrants for Israeli war criminals.
Ghasan Faour believes that the Goldstone report will not be the last, as there will be further aggression and crimes against the Palestinian people will continue. Gaza has become an open prison and there is an almost complete media silence when Israel continues to drop bombs on Gaza. The international community desperately needs to act to ensure the Palestinians do not continue suffering.
Baroness Tonge called on the public to make Gaza an election issue in Britain. Politicians should be convinced that they would not be elected unless they pledged to take a stand an Gaza and the Palestinian issue.
She described Gaza as an obscenity because not far away in Jerusalem the Israelis have the best hospitals and plenty of food and water while the Palestinians are dying due to lack of medical care, the children are malnourished and there is a shortage of drinking water. Even if they received medical treatment many Palestinians had no homes to return to as they had been reduced to rubble.
Baroness Tonge also spoke about her visit to Gaza last year and paid tribute to the schoolchildren who were laughing, singing songs and showing how much drive they had despite the appalling conditions in which they were living.
Afif Safieh recalled a time when it was electorally rewarding for politicians to be seen as anti-Palestinian. But he emphasised that the Palestinians have now won the battle for European and Western public opinion. Gaza was a moral defeat of Israeli barbarity.
The world knows that territory and not terrorism is the obstacle to the peace process. The policy of Israeli politicians on both the right and left has been to appropriate as much Palestinian land as possible.
Afif Safieh said the Palestinians opposed holocaust denials but they themselves have been subjected to four denials: denial of their physical existence, denial of their national rights, denial of their suffering and denial of those who are responsible for their suffering. The Palestinians are unbowed, untamed and undomesticated and their cry for freedom will be heard by the whole world.
Ken Loach called for a boycott of Israeli cultural events and goods. “The more we do that, the stronger will be the message that their behaviour is unacceptable,” he said.
Obada Swalha said the Palestinian problem started with the lie of “a land without a people for a people without a land”. He emphasised that the war may have ended but the siege continues and the people of Gaza are still living in tents, children are dying of malnutrition and hospitals have a minimum of medicines.
Peter Eyre gave a power point presentation which focused on Gaza’s decimated fishing industry and the horrific injuries caused by the use of white phosphorous by the Israelis.
The Palestine Return Centre now intends to hold a memorial week every year for the people of the Gaza Strip, most of whom have been the victims of Israeli aggression since they were driven off their land by the Zionists in 1948.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hate crime follows BNP poll wins

THE LEVELS of reported hate crime – motivated by racial or religious hate – has risen significantly in areas throughout Britain where the neo-Nazi British National Party has won council seats, according to research on police statistics conducted under the Freedom of Information Act by the Guardian newspaper.
Incidents of hate crime have increased in wards in the West Midlands, London and Essex after the election of a BNP member in local council elections while generally throughout the country the rate of reported hate crime has decreased.
The BNP last weekend increased its canvassing activity in these areas and especially Barking and Dagenham where it hopes to win a parliamentary seat at the coming general election by defeating Labour Minister of Culture Margaret Hodge.
BNP member Terence Gavin was jailed last week for 11 years after police found nail bombs and 12 firearms at his home in Kirklees, west Yorkshire – where the BNP has councillors.
In east London in Barking’s Eastbury ward racially motivated violence, theft and criminal damage more than doubled in the year after BNP member Jeffrey Steed won the seat in May 2006. Hate crime rose again in that ward the following year with 45 racial incidents reported in 12 months.
The BNP is reported to be planning to stand more than 1,000 candidates in the general election.
They are also planning to put their own seals on ballot boxes – in addition to those placed by election officials. They have invoked the Ballot Act of 1872, which allows candidates to put their own seals because they say they fear that Labour-supporting town hall officials are likely to tamper with ballot boxes to prevent a BNP candidate being elected to Parliament.
Meanwhile in all the areas where the BNP plan to stand, the Hope not Hate campaign will be fielding thousands of anti-fascist campaigners from trade unions and other progressive bodies to counter the BNP lies and hate on the doorsteps.
The campaign says: “We have proved in recent council by-elections that we can beat the BNP in its strongest areas. However given the scale of the threat we cannot hope to do this alone. The 2010 Hope not Hate campaign will be our biggest yet. For it to be successful we need everyone to get involved.”
The campaign can be contacted via its website or phone 020 7681 8660.

Friday, January 15, 2010

RMT to lobby Parliament

RAIL UNION RMT last week announced arrangements for a rally and lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 27th January 2010 in the fight to stop the axing of nearly 1500 safety-critical maintenance jobs by Network Rail.
A timetable for a national ballot for industrial action by rail maintenance staff will be confirmed shortly.
The severe weather conditions this week have underlined the importance of having proper staffing levels on the rail network with reports that some of the transport problems have been worsened by a shortage of crew to de-freeze tracks and points – and that’s before Network Rail push through a further 1500 job cuts.
The RMT lobby of parliament – under the banner Cuts Cost Lives – will assemble at 12.30pm on Wednesday 27th January on Old Palace Yard opposite the House of Commons.
It will be followed by a rally at 2.15pm in Committee Room 14 before RMT members and supporters lobby individual MP’s.

Death in custody man "could not breathe"

“I CAN’T breathe. You’re killing me,” were the last words of Paul Coker, a mixed race youth, as he was being arrested for causing a disturbance at his girlfriend’s home in south London in August 2005.
Police took Paul Coker away and the next days his family were informed he had died in custody two hours after being put in a cell, an inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court was told last week.
A jury will decide if police followed correct detention procedures. The court heard Coker became unwell and collapsed after being transported to cells.
Coroner Selina Lynch told jurors that a pathologist's report gave the cause of death as cocaine intoxication.
Members of Coker's family, including his mother Patricia Coker, were present in court.
This death in custody was the subject of a campaign for justice for the family in 2005 – an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission was launched immediately. Once the inquiry started the police refused to tell the family anything about the circumstances of Paul’s death.
It has taken four-and-a-half years for the case to reach the coroner’s court and still there are many unanswered questions.
Paul Coker was a very fit young man who trained regularly. He had been a user of cocaine and cannabis but was reported to have been improving.
His mother Patricia Coker told the coroner’s court: “He tried very hard to overcome these problems in his later life. He found it difficult, but he was really trying to move forward.
"He was basically a very good and decent person," she said.
Coker had been battling depression, substance abuse and had been sentenced for burglary. But days before his death he had secured a new job and was about to move into a flat.
Lucy Chadwick, the girlfriend, told the court Coker had been taking cocaine and cannabis and had become "a bit paranoid".
Her landlord and his sons called the police when he refused to leave. She was with them downstairs when officers entered the room to take him away. "He was saying, 'You are hurting me, I can't breathe, you are killing me'.”