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Mark Thomas article

== | 06.11.2004 20:33 | FBI Server Seizure

the Statesman with Mark Thomas giving the server issue and Indymedia a plug
thought you might like it......

Although the nearest we geet to oppression of
comedians is to remove Jim Davidson's driving license
bianually. Britain is still an illiberal nation when
it comes to free speech

I have an urgent announcement to make to the many
people who, over the years, have said to me: "I don't
agree with a word of what you have said, but I will
fight to the death for your right to say it." I have
decided to take you up on the offer. I want to go to
George W Bush's inauguration ceremony with an 18-wheel
flat-bed rig and 20kW PA system and continuously
broadcast: "Compulsory abortions for all
non-Satanists! Hail Osama!" Either that, or turn up at
a Countryside Alliance demonstration, blasting out:
"I'm Alun Michael and I've come to claim your wives!"

I can't quite make up my mind which to do, but
remembering your kind offer to lay down your life, I
thought that this might be the right opportunity for
such a gesture. Anyone up for it ?

Freedom of speech might not give us the right to
shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, but it does give
us the right to shout "Heard it!" during Hamlet's "to
be or not to be" soliloquy. As the political activist
Abbie Hoffman observed, freedom of speech is the right
to shout "Theatre!" in a crowded fire. And had he been
alive and present when Bush spoke through a bullhorn
in the rubble of the twin towers, he'd have had the
perfect moment in which to shout it.

Many may quote Voltaire, but what they really mean is:
"I vaguely agree with your values and will be prepared
to sign a petition and possibly wear a badge for your
right to say it."

Generally it is assumed that issues regarding freedom
of speech occur abroad. We might even be aware of the
odd case, like the comedians U Pa Pa Lay and U Lu Zaw
in Burma, jailed for five years in March 1996 for
performing satirical sketches. However, although the
nearest we get to the repression of comedians in this
country is the biannual removal of Jim Davidson's
driving licence, we are still an illiberal nation when
it comes to free speech.

The 1997 Gandalf trial in the UK received little
attention in the press and, subsequently, little
support outside the activist community. Three men were
charged with conspiracy to incite criminal damage
under the Criminal Justice Act. They were found guilty
and each was sentenced to three years. They served
four and a half months before being freed on appeal.
So what evidence did the Crown Prosecution Service
come up with? In an occasional magazine called Green
Anarchist, writers had reported on various acts of
civil disobedience

The prosecution argued that this kind of reporting
encouraged others to commit criminal damage. Such
logic, which insists that reporters of conflict or
disruption are to blame for further violence, can only
lead us to conclude that Rageh Omaar is to blame for
the invasion of Iraq.

In Britain, we rarely support free speech for
ideologies we do not agree with. The New Statesman (18
October) did offer some decent press coverage of the
latest assault on freedom of speech and press. This
involved the Indymedia website -the most significant
step taken in journalism since Rupert Murdoch moved
his printing plants to Wapping. The site is run by
volunteers and, for its content, it relies entirely on
contributions by ordinary people, the citizens of
whatevercountry where it is running. "Don't hate the
media, be it!" is its slogan. It challenges people to
tell their own stories and repont on events. One of
the best examples of Indymedia in action in the UK
came during last year's arms fair in Docklands when
up-to-the-minute reports, photos and footage provided
a running commentary on the protests taking place at
the fair.

On 7 October, the FBI seized Indymedia's servers in
London. The seizure orders came as a result of a
request from the Italian and Swiss governments. With
the servers' removed 20 Indymedia sites in countries
all ove the world went down. This was an act
censorship and intimidation. It was th equivalent of
the FBI storming the Guardian’s offices and demanding
that the paper hand over all its computers including .
those that hold details of its writers and

The odd thing is that the FBI seized the servers at the
request of foreign authorities - and yet the Home
Office claims it knows nothing about it. Apparently
there is no protection of privacy for Indymedia
contributors. There is no accountability for the
actions taken by the FBI. The Home Office just shrugs
its shoulders

There is no greater censor than the fear of Big
Brother watching over your shoulder. If you want a
picture of the future, imagine a jackboot on a human
face for ever - and a rather cute black guide dog
sitting next to it.

On 10 November, Mark Thomas will receive an
International Service Human Rights Award for his work
as a "globe human rights defender" at a ceremony in
London. Judges praised him for "using his skills and
talent so intelligently to raise public awareness of
human right abuses at home and abroad"


New Statesman 8th October