Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Last Campaign for Free Assembly Day of Action

Last Saturday 5th of April we gathered at Trafalgar Square to once again claim our freedom to assemble in the UK. Around twenty of us held banners from the campaign and handed out leaflets informing passers-by on the existing and proposed legislations thwarting our ability to freely protest in this country. With us there were also a few police vans and the Forward Intelligence Teams (see video by Doug). However, this time we didn’t get the same amount of harassment and intimidation they usually inflict on protesters. After an hour in the ‘Charles I Island’ (South Trafalgar Square) we moved with our banners into the SOCPA exclusion zone and went for a walk to Whitehall, the Home Office and Parliament Square, where we were joined by Brian Haw (see photographs of demo below). Needless to say we were escorted all the way by a group of approximately eight police officers and a police van. We decided we didn't want to wait until this government’s finally repeals sections 132-138 of SOCPA in order to protest in the restriction area. We feel those laws, as with many others, are unjust and against our fundamental freedoms and, therefore, we refuse to comply with them.

Jack Straw announced plans to replace SOCPA sections 132-138 - which ban spontaneous demonstrations around Parliament, and make it a criminal offence to demonstrate without police permission - to get maximum positive PR from the ever-compliant press. Straw only announced the repeal now, while the need for new laws was hidden in the small print:

"In moving to repeal sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, the Government nonetheless takes seriously the need to ensure that the operation of Parliament is safeguarded. For many years this principle has been given expression in sessional orders which provided the Metropolitan Police with clarity on the House’s expectations on the Commissioner. [...] The Government believes that Parliament itself is well placed to contribute to proper consideration of what needs to be secured in order to ensure that Members are able freely and without hindrance to discharge their roles and responsibilities. [...] The Government therefore invites the views of Parliament on whether additional provision is needed for the purpose of keeping passages leading to the House free and open while the House is sitting, or to ensure that, for example, excessive noise is not used to disrupt the workings of Parliament."


The proposed powers and those already given to the police create a climate of criminalisation: a vast confusion of laws are applied arbitrarily so people are arrested simply for standing in the wrong place at the wrong time or having the wrong face. This combines with a police culture that evades accountability even when people are killed, as shown by the Menezes case and others.

There should be no complacency that the court system can be relied on to prevent injustice. The ability to exercise effective protest is crucial in order to defend ourselves and others from the abuses of those in power. Whatever the issues that matter most to you, whether you are concerned about a safer school crossing, a new runway or ending a war, these laws affect you.

The government proposals need a response not on paper but on our streets. The message is simple: we claim the freedom to assemble without prior notification or permission and this freedom is not open to negotiation.

The Campaign for Free Assembly will be holding a Day of Action on the first Saturday of every month in order to campaign against, not only the restrictions within the 1km designated area under SOCPA, but also all the other legislations and measures - as in the case of 'dispersal zones' - constantly being applied to suppress free assembly and protest.

Next Day of Action for Free Assembly: Saturday 3rd May. We will gather at 1pm at the ‘Charles I Island’, the roundabout on the South side of Trafalgar Square (fyi: this place is just on the border with the SOCPA exclusion zone).

Come with your mates and decide with them what you want to do with the day. Bring placards, banners and anything else you can think of. Let them know you won’t be easily silenced.

Next CFA Public Meeting: Saturday 12th April, 2-4pm. London School of Economics, Connaught House, room H102 (Holborn).

Campaign for Free Assembly
e-mail: freeassembly@riseup.net

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