Are you a "domestic extremist"?

See Magna Carta Plus News for details on how entirely peaceful, legal protest and merely attending political meetings could get your details recorded on databases of “domestic extremists”…

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Nine NO2ID protestors arrested in Edinburgh

On Monday, 9 protestors, including me, all involved with the NO2ID campaign, were arrested in Edinburgh and charged with breach of the peace.

You can see some reports and discussion about this at the following links:

This STV report
This report in the Herald
This BBC Scotland report
A thread on NO2ID’s forums
Guy Herbert’s Samizdata article
Another thread on NO2ID’s forums

At this time, I’ll make the following points:

  • we were all peaceful at all times during the protest
  • only 1 protestor sneaked into the meeting. Geraint Bevan, the coordinator of NO2ID Scotland got into the meeting at the start under the cunning ruse of walking up to the registration desk and claiming to be one of the people named on the badges on display.
  • prior to entering the hotel, we were protesting peacefully outside, causing curiosity, amusement and the occasional message of support from the passing public.
  • when the hotel manager approached us and asked us to leave, Geraint (by this time physically thrown out of the meeting) asked if it were OK for us to leave after STV had conducted an interview with him. The manager agreed.
  • when the interview was over, we made to leave immediately, only to find the police had been called. At no point prior to this were we given any intimation the police were called or were going to be called. Prior to the hotel manager asking us to leave, we were not told by any member of staff that we should leave.
  • when we entered, we entered peacefully, quietly, carrying placards, with an STV camera crew in tow. The people at the head of our procession did not wear masks.
  • we were officially arrested at 12.30 (after a considerable length of time when the police took our details).
  • we regard this charge as a ridiculous jumped up charge.
  • we will be fighting this charge.
  • Geraint faces a separate charge related to events in the meeting. This will also be fought.

More on the anti-Scientology protesters fined in Birmingham

Regarding my previous article, this thread on the Enturbulation forums is well worth reading in full. The main points I draw from it are as follows:

  • The protesters had been warned twice that they were not allowed to leaflet in the area concerned and were issued £50 fixed penalty notices under the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act 2005. This Act has a clear exemption for material handed out for political purposes or for a religion or belief. It seems to me that protesting against Scientology counts as a political purpose.
  • The protesters were warned that if they used the word “cult” on a sign or a flyer they will be arrested for religious hatred! Note that the Religious and Racial Hatred Act also has a protection for freedom of speech (see Section 29J of the amendment to the Public Order Act) that reads:

    Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

If the facts of the case are as described in that forum, then it seems to me that the police’s actions in this case do not accord with the law.

Sunday Herald article on Glasgow police banning "cult" placards last weekend

The Sunday Herald have a report on the events I witnessed last weekend. Apparently they got this comment from Strathclyde Police:

Strathclyde Police admitted officers had stopped activists using the word “cult” after receiving a complaint.

A spokeswoman said: “The word is not a breach of the peace in itself. However, in this case it was exacerbating the situation and our stance was that we had to remove that.

“From a policing point of view, a balance has to be struck between the right to assemble and hold a meeting and other persons’ rights to go about their business or demonstrate without being obstructed or hindered.”

I’ve seen the protesters out several times in recent weeks. As far as I can tell they have not hindered the public using Buchanan Street nor have they prevented the Scientologists from organising their “free stress tests”. They have simply held up placards and worn masks. They may have used some chants but if so I’ve not witnessed that. To me, it seems they have done nothing wrong and the police have failed to justify their action.

If someone you’re protesting against can get the police to remove your placards simply because they (claim to) find a word on the placard offensive, then it seems to me the right to peaceful protest is dead.

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Glasgow anti-Scientology protestors told to bin "cult" signs

Today I was helping out at the Glasgow NO2ID’s stall in Buchanan Street. As we were packing up, Geraint, the Glasgow No2ID group coordinator mentioned that the police had been called to an anti-Scientology protest taking place further up the street.

I’d noticed the “free stress test” stalls run by the Scientologists earlier in the day, and we were both curious as to what was happening so we went to chat to the protestors. The police were still talking to them when we got there. I was told by one protestor that a “May Day” flag had been confiscated, and that they were being told that the word “cult” was offensive and, if I recall correctly, if they continued to use it it would constitute a “breach of the peace”.

Also, I personally witnessed one of the protestors taking some signs to the bin at the direction of one of the officers. The signs being binned apparently used the word “cult”. Geraint later told me he’d seen a the protestors holding a sign saying “Cult” with an arrow on it which was held so as to point at the scientologists. This was presumably one of the binned signs. The protestors were however allowed to continue their protest, though the were told to make sure they were well over the other side of the street from the Scientologists. I’ll add that the police were perfectly civil towards the protestors as far as I could tell.

However apparently Glasgow police think it is “offensive” to describe Scientology as a cult, or at least were willing to act on the basis of offence caused to whoever phoned them up to complain (most probably one of the Scientologists).

And this episode, along with the recent episode in London (which has had a happy ending thankfully), illustrates why “causing offense” should not be considered a valid restriction on freedom of speech or the right to peaceful protest. People can (claim to) take offence at ANYTHING, including purely factual statements. Not causing offense may be good manners, but you should not be required by law to do so since that allows people to silence those whose message they simply don’t like and to silence those exposing awkward truths.

The Church of Scientology would love to have the power to silence its critics and it seems the idea that causing offence is sufficient grounds to curb someone’s speech or protests is beginning to give them that power here in Britain.

Scientology is a cult…

…according to this court judgement from Judge Latey, who repeatedly describes Scientology as a cult:

In Re: T Minors (Transcript of judgments given on 10th December 1975) the Court of Appeal was concerned with children one of whose parents was a member of another and very different sect. In the course of his judgement Lord Justice Scarman (as he then was) stressed that “it is conceded that there is nothing immoral or socially obnoxious in the beliefs and practices of this sect”. Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious. Mr. Kennedy did not exaggerate when he termed it “pernicious”. In my judgement it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has as its real objective money and power for Mr.

Hubbard, his wife and those close to him at the top. It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestioningly and to those outside who criticise or oppose it. It is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people, and indoctrinate and brainwash them so that they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn from ordinary thought, living and relationships
with others.

Also, here is the definition of the word “cult” from the Compact Oxford English Dictionary online:

cult

• noun 1 a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object. 2 a small religious group regarded as strange or as imposing excessive control over members. 3 something popular or fashionable among a particular section of society.

It seems to me, from reading Judge Latey’s judgement, that Scientology falls under the second definition above. Why am I saying this now? Because there are those seeking to prevent people from being able to describe Scientology as a cult, including the City of London Police, according to the Register:

His sign read: “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.”

Within five minutes of arriving, the teenager was approached by a female police officer and told he was not allowed to use the word “cult” to describe Scientology, and that the Inspector in charge would make a decision. Soon afterwards officers again approached, read Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and handed him this notice.

The Act makes it an offence to display “any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby”.

The Register article also states:

City of London Police gave us this statement:

City of London police had received complaints about demonstrators using the words ‘cult’ and ‘Scientology kills’ during protests against the Church of Scientology on Saturday 10 May.

Following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service some demonstrators were warned verbally and in writing that their signs breached section five of the Public Order Act 1986.

One demonstrator, a juvenile, continued to display a placard despite police warnings and was reported for an offence under section five. A file on the case will be sent to the CPS.

I hope this case gets thrown out, otherwise people’s ability to say what they believe to be true, and engage in peaceful protest, will have been seriously undermined.

Government bans spontaneous protests within 1 km of Parliament

As reported in the Evening Standard and on the BBC and in the “Mayor of London” weblog, spontaneous protests, even if they only involve a single person, are now banned in an area that extends up to 1 km from Parliament Square in London.

This ban has been imposed under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, a law which was passed just before the general election in the “wash up” period after it was called. Sections 132 to 138 set out both the nature of the ban and the requirements for organising protests and how the designated area is set out. Key features are:

  • it is an offence to organise, take part in or carry out a demonstration without authorisation in any public place within the designated area (section 132),
  • the offence of organising a demonstration in the designated area without authorisation is punishable by upto 51 weeks in prison and a fine (section 136),
  • the offence of taking part in or carrying out a demonstration in the designated area without authorisation is punishable by a fine (section 136),
  • to get authorisation for a demonstration in the designated area one must apply to the Metropolitan Police 6 days beforehand if reasonably practical or 24 hours beforehand otherwise, and must do so in person or in writing using registered post (section 133),
  • the police must authorise the demonstration but can impose any of the following conditions; restrictions on the length and times of the protest, restrictions on the numbers who can protest, restrictions on the number and size of the banners or placards used, restrictions on where the protest can take place; maximum permissable noise levels. (Section 134) The use of loud hailers is banned. (section 137)
  • violating the conditions of a demonstration is an offence punishable by upto 51 weeks imprisonment and or a fine in the case of the organisers or a fine for other protestors (Section 134),
  • it is an offence to incite someone to commit any of the offences described above (Section 134) punishable by upto 51 weeks in prison and/or a fine

The designated area can be any area the is upto 1 km from Parliament Square. Section 138 gives the Secretary of State the power to issue an order describing the designated area.

This statutory instrument was produced under this section and thus gives effect to this part of the Act and describes the designated area that will come into effect from the 1st August 2005.

Note that under the terms of the Act unauthorised protests are not allowed in any public place, that is any place the public have access to, within the designated area. Thus it covers the public areas of any pubs, hotels, conference centres or other buildings the public have access to.

Also the idea of a “demonstration” is not defined in the Act, leaving unanswered questions such as “Does wearing a T-shirt with a political slogan count as a demonstration?” and “Does organising a meeting of a political group inside a bar in the designated area count as an unauthorised demonstration?”.

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Courts approve use of Terrorism Act against peaceful protestors

Back when the Terrorism Act 2000 was merely a bill, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary at the time, reassured us that “There is nothing in the bill that will interfere in the right of people to protest peacefully, “ and “The legislation is not intended to deal with alleged offences properly dealt with under the existing criminal law. Neither will it in any way curb individuals’ democratic rights to protest peacefully.”

So of course it came as a complete surprise (NOT) when the Terrorism Act 2000 was used against peaceful protestors in London. Still given Straw’s reassurances and the fact the current Home Secretary David Blunkett does not control the police directly, it might seem only fair to wait for the outcome of the legal challenge. Well the courts have upheld the use of the Terrorism Act in these circumstances. So much for the reassurances given by Straw when it was a bill. It is worth remembering why he gave the reassurances. It’s all down to the definition of terrorism, which states:

1. – (1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where-
(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate
the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political,
religious or ideological cause.

(2) Action falls within this subsection if it-
(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property,
(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

(3) The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.

(4) In this section-
(a) “action” includes action outside the United Kingdom,
(b) a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,
(c) a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country other than the United Kingdom, and
(d) “the government” means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.

(5) In this Act a reference to action taken for the purposes of terrorism includes a reference to action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation.

Clearly, this definition covers acts of mere civil disobedience, or even threats thereof. It seems clear to me the police could argue that any demonstration involves a threat of “terrorism” so defined, since some of the protestors might try to damage property or threaten to do so through civil disobedience. Once the police get approval to stop and search on this basis, they have the power to search anyone for articles that might be used for “terrorism”, e.g. anything that could be used to damage property, or for disrupting an electronic system — a faxable document for example, mass faxing being a way of disrupting a fax machine which is an electronic system.

The irony is that the trading of arms is far more likely to have involved real terrorists or the risk of such arms falling into their hands than the protests against the trading of arms going on outside the fair.

The moral of the story is that govt assurances that legislation is not intended to be used in certain situations are worthless when the legislation explicitly allows such usage. Bear in mind the above definition of terrorism, and look over the offences in the Terrorism Act 2000 and ask yourself how easy it would be to arrest perfectly innocent people as “suspected terrorists”. A more detailed article on the Terrrorism Act can be found here.

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