Wed, 14 Mar 2007

Creative use of the law as a form of protest

The French have perfected the art of using the law and other rules as a form of a protest culminating in the regular ‘grèves du zèle’. Those on grève du zèle do their work but observe all rules to the letter with such minutiae that their productivity is virtually nil. This is a form of protest that is accessible to those that are by law forbidden to go on strike. It is most popular with airport staff.

This same spirit is gaining traction in the UK.

Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) outlaws protests without police permission within 1 km of the Parliament. Several individuals involved in peaceful protests have been arrested under this law. Last year, Mark Thomas spotted a way to use the SOCPA law itself as a way to undermine it: ‘for people to apply for mass lone demonstrations and in doing so highlight the danger and stupidity of having this law in a democracy’. Mark provides all the practical details you need to participate.

Earlier today, I went to Charing Cross police station and got my Application for Demonstration approved. I'll be demonstrating on my own to call for the ‘Police to consider other options than to arrest innocents (and keep their DNA) or shoot them’. I won't tell you where or when I'll demonstrate as this is a lone event, go organise your own.

From Charing Cross I rushed to attend a debate on the death penalty organised by Reprieve with human right lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, Nick Yarris who spent 23 years on Pennsylvania’s death row before DNA evidence exonerated him in 2004, journalists Mark Dowd and (as the dissenting voice) Peter Hitchens, and chaired by broadcaster Charles Wheeler.

Nick Yarris' way forward to end capital punishment in the USA is through economic pressure. He is determined to convince European governments to bring about trade sanctions against the five US states who hold most of the death row population: California, Florida, Pennsylvania Texas and Virginia. Nick claims the UK is the largest overall foreign investor in Pennsylvania, a reason he moved to the UK from Pennsylvania. Trade sanctions or the prospect of bank loans have been effective means of enforcing so called intellectual property rights (IPR). A common way to impose sanctions is to have them voluntarily accepted as a condition to join a club, that's how the World Trade Organization has foisted on many nations the EU-US-Japan-led Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). And the USA can impose economic sanctions, under the Special 301 legislation of the Trade Act of 1974, on countries it deems not effective in protecting IPR.

From reading and watching presentations by Clive Stafford Smith, he always seems ready to share interesting anecdotes in how he constructively used US laws. (In a lecture to Glaswegian law students, unfortunately not online anymore, he recounted how he got Georgia's court to overturn the five years jail sentence for his client having committed the crime of oral sex with his consenting wife; his legal arguments included demanding assurances from prosecution lawyers that they were not guilty of the same offense.) Last week's debate was not the place for too many anecdotes, but he did offer one of his more off-the-wall suggestion: for someone to provide ‘death row insurance’ alongside travel insurance for those flying to the US. You may want to check the available videos of him as his enthusiasm and pragmatism are contagious. In the latest Reprieve newsletter, Clive Stafford Smith suggests for musicians to use Copyright law to hold the American government to account for its use of music to torture detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo.

In the latest Reprieve newsletter, Clive Stafford Smith suggests for musicians to use Copyright law to hold the American government to account on its use of torture. The US military is known to have used music to torture detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. Music from Aerosmith, Eminem, Don Mclean, Bruce Springsteen, Tupac, and Meatloaf as well as the theme tune of the TV show Barney have been used to torture. All the artists involved can sue the US government for copyright infringement and request detailed information as to when and where their music has been played so that they can calculate how much royalties they are owed. Copyright law, which has been extended for the sole benefit of media corporations, could possibly achieve more for the human rights of many where human right laws have mostly failed!

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