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A state of panic?

Poketov | 26.02.2006 18:42 | Repression

THE tidal wave of draconian suppressive legislation being rushed in by the Government is a sign that they are losing control.

That was the positive message to emerge from a meeting on civil rights held in Brighton on the evening of Thursday February 23.

One local campaigner told the 50-strong gathering at the Friends Meeting House in Ship Street: "It is a real sign of weakness by the Government. They know they haven't got any answers. "They are desperately trying to shut people up. It's all trying to get people off the streets."

The answer, he added, was to defy the oppressive laws and make as much noise as possible. This optimistic note was not out of place in a meeting that necessarily focused on a lot of worrying accounts of the extent to which the state is currently attmepting to stifle and crush dissent.

For instance, the Smash EDO! campaign was able to report that the local arms components manufacturer had dropped its main injunction against protesters.

An activist from the group explained how the Protection from Harassment Act,supposedly brought in to tackle "stalkers", had in fact been deployed against animal rights, anti-GM and peace protesters.

With reference to the EDO injunction, he said: "What they were basically saying is that the company was being stalked by everyone in the world, so everyone in the world should be restricted from protesting outside their premises."

By challenging the injunction, the Brighton campaigners were challenging the overall use of these laws - "This is a real success for civil liberties in general".

David, speaking for Brighton No2ID, explained the alarming implications of the legislation currently going through Parliament. But he stressed that the issue was not really about the physical ID cards people would be expected to carry. "The ID cards is the spin the Government is putting on it. What it's really about is a fundamental reversal of the status quo for civil liberties in this country. It's citizens answering to the state, rather than the state answering to citizens."

The database was the real problem, he said, and would lead to a point where "the Government will know absolutely everything there is to know about you." He foresaw this power being deployed for political reasons: "It will enable a degree of harassment of malcontents, people who won't buy into the political agenda of the day."

But the scheme had major weaknesses, he stressed. One was the cost. Would the public be happy seeing £15 billion spent on it, while new hospitals were not being built? He could see wide opposition. Another flaw was the fact that it relied on very complex technology - and the Government's record in this area was far from impressive.

Maya Evans of Justice Not Vengeance, based at St Leonard's in East Sussex, explained how she came to be the first person to be convicted for protesting in the "no-protest" zone around Westminster. She said they had been aware of the law before embarking on the bell-ringing anti-war protest, but "we disagreed with the act in principle so we went ahead and did the action".

She explained that under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act anyone wanting to stage a protest in the zone had to fill in an application form six days in advance, or 24 hours in an "emergency". The Met Police could then restrict the numbers on the demo, the number of banners used, the noise created and even the location.

The argument that this was to protect Parliament from terrorism seemed to be based on the idea that a terrorist would be concerned about the niceties of filling in an application form - and indeed that any terrorist attack would be connected with a demonstration in the first place.

The meeting heard of a number of future events planned.

These included a Smash EDO! victory protest on Wednesday March 1 at 4pm at the bottom of Home Farm Road, Brighton.

On Sunday April 2 there will be an act of mass civil disobedience against the occupation of Iraq from 12 noon in Parliament Square. This will be an unauthorised protest within the no-protest zone.

Meanwhile, a human chain around the Westminster no-protest zone could be formed in a spectacular Mayday gesture on Monday May 1 - but only if 6,000 people sign up to an online pledge.