Fri, 05 Oct 2007

Double standards

Gordon Brown condemns Burmese violence. Press release from 10 Downing Street dated 2007-09-28:
In a statement released by Downing Street today, Mr Brown said the protestors have been exercising "great bravery" by protesting peacefully.

"I had hoped that the Burmese regime would heed the calls for restraint from the international community.

"But once again they have responded with oppression and force. This must cease."

The democratic movement in Burma were praised for their "courage, moderation and dignity".

Anti-war demonstration in Parliament Square is banned by the Police. Press release from STWC dated 2007-10-05
Thousands of anti-war protestors are expected to march down Whitehall on Monday, 8 October, in defiance of a police ban. The police decision is an unprecedented attack on civil liberties.

LIBERTY have stated that this decision "interferes with the vital democratic rights of free expression and free assembly."

The Stop the War Coalition have sent a final appeal to the police to reverse their decision and have requested guarantees regarding the safety and security of all those who attend the demonstration. Among the marchers will be: Tony Benn, Walter Wolfgang, Brian Eno, Mark Thomas, Jenny Jones, Lindsey German, Ben Griffin and John McDonnell MP. (Statements of support included below)

Inspector Stuart Cornish
New Scotland Yard
05 October 2007

Dear Stuart,

Following the decision of the Metropolitan Police to agree to the banning of our long planned demonstration on October 8th we write to make our position as clear as possible and to ask for guarantees regarding the safety and security of those attending the event on the 8th October.

1] We met with you on four separate occasions to discuss the planning of the demonstration on the 8th October. In the first three meetings there was never any question of not being allowed to demonstrate. Only in the very last meeting did you say that you could no longer facilitate the demonstration.

2] The grounds on which you have made this decision is spurious. The sessional order, as you have admitted, is subject to different interpretation at different times but it should never be used to suppress the right to legitimate and peaceful protest.

The civil liberties organisation Liberty has written to Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison that, “this proposed restriction on peaceful protest is a disproportionate interference with the vital democratic rights of free expression and free assembly”.

3] Since 2001 we have arranged with the cooperation of your department 20 demonstrations. These have included the largest demonstration in British political history on February 15th 2003 and also the demonstration to protest at the visit of US president George Bush on November 20th 2003. On the latter nearly 400,000 people marched through Whitehall by the House of Commons on a weekday while parliament was sitting. There was no attempt to prevent this march using the sessional order. All our demonstrations have been peaceful.

4] On the 8th of October we intend to march to parliament. There will be a large number of elderly people and families with children attending our event. We strongly request that the Metropolitan Police do not endanger the safety of those attending, either by the use of riot police or through the use of mounted police. Our stewards will be working to facilitate a peaceful protest and we ask for that same cooperation from your officers.

5] We have no intention of disrupting parliament or preventing MPs from attending parliament. In fact the opposite is the case - our protest seeks to make parliament act in the interests of the vast majority of the people of this country who want British troops withdrawn from Iraq.

6] It is a matter of great concern to us that our previous good relations in regard to the planning of legitimate public protest have broken down. You will have received advice that your decision to ban our protest is of dubious legality and we ask you one more time to review your decision in respect of our march.

Andrew Burgin
Lindsey German
Chris Nineham
Stop the War Coalition


TONY BENN, in his letter to the Home Secretary
The authority for this march derives from our ancient right to free speech and assembly enshrined in our history. It is only fair to tell you that the march will go ahead, in any case, and I will be among those marching.

A protest demanding all the troops out now is of national significance. To try and stop that protest is a major interference with free speech. The march should go ahead whether it is formally permitted or not.

LINDSEY GERMAN, Convenor Stop the War Coalition
The government want to bury the issue of their disastrous war. They will not succeed. We will be marching in our thousands on Monday.

In a democracy we expect peaceful protest to be permitted. We are not yet in the kind of tyranny that the Burmese people have to suffer, I hope the authorities will reconsider.

BEN GRIFFIN (ex SAS trooper)
Gordon Brown cannot praise protesters in Burma and then ban a protest in London. I will be protesting on Monday, regardless of whether Police permission is granted.

MICHAEL KUSTOW, theatre director
If people aren't allowed to have their say on all our streets, what kind of Parliament are we meant to be defending?

BRIAN ENO, musician and producer
If they are planning an Iranian attack they will have a public even more upset and disgruntled than before. This is what this tightening up is about…Civil liberties never seem very important until you need them. At times like this we need to be re-enforcing them.

This is an outrageous attempt by the Government to block the democratic right to protest. This is a legitimate and important protest against an illegal war which Britain should never have been involved in. The Government should be listening to the people's protests not attempting to block them.

MARK THOMAS, comedian
This is rather a ham-fisted attempt to prevent us from demonstrating. What they (the government and police) do is up to them. We will just ignore them and we have the moral and logical high-ground. I will be marching on Monday 8 October.

The attempt to ban this demonstration is an unacceptable assault on our civil liberties and I will be joining the march to exercise my right to protest at the continuing presence of British troops in Iraq.

IAIN BANKS, author
It's becoming remarkably hard to escape the feeling we're ruled by people who are basically paranoid authoritarian incompetents.

It is depressing that our democratic rights are being whittled away bit by bit. We will look back and wonder how this happened. They wouldn't get away with this in one go. First an arrest for reading names, then a ban on marches. What will be next?

DAVID EDGAR, playwright
The stop the war demonstration on 15 February 2003 was arguably the most politically influential march in Britain since the 1970s, so it's no surprise that politicians are immobilising anti-war demonstrations now. At a time when the political debate at Westminster occupies ever narrower ground, it's vital that voices from outside are heard.

GORDON BROWN, 2007 Labour Party conference
Change to strengthen our liberties to uphold the freedom of speech, freedom of information and the freedom to protest.
I wish I could join this demonstration.

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