London Indymedia

Bush visit: Parliament Square protesters demand protection and rights

Global Women's Strike | 18.11.2003 17:29 | Bush 2003 | Repression | London

President Bush’s visit:
As huge sums are spent on security arrangements, MPs call for protection for Parliament Square protesters and their rights

On 13 November, John McDonnell MP tabled Early Day Motion 1914, which reads: “That this House expresses its deep concern that the visit of George Bush, President of the USA, may be used as an occasion to undermine the right to protest by removing the peaceful anti war protestors in Parliament Square, Brian Haw who has been there 24 hours a day for over two years and the Women’s Community Picket which joined him at the start of the war against Iraq; notes the extensive arrangements to ensure the safety of the US President contrasted with the inadequate protection afforded to Mr Haw who has suffered serious physical assaults, and calls upon the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to allow Mr Haw and the Women’s Picket to continue their protest in the square and to ensure that policing arrangements provide for their safety.” With the police under pressure from the US to protect their universally unpopular president when he visits Britain this week, the media is reporting plans for unprecedented draconian restrictions on the right to protest. They include giving US security men the right to shoot anyone they think looks threatening.

Is our right to protest a further casualty of this unjustifiable war and occupation which have already cost so many lives? Will the right of protesters in Parliament Square and other protesters be upheld? The continued presence of Brian Haw’s peace protest and the Women’s Anti-War Community Picket are an embarrassment to MPs who voted for the bombing of Iraqi civilians and the occupation which has followed – a nagging daily reminder of the massive anti-war movement which urged the government not to go to war, predicting the horror we have witnessed since the first bombs fell.

While £4 million is being spent on protecting an unwanted self-invited guest, Brian Haw has suffered a number of assaults in the past six months and cannot get the police at Parliament’s gates to cross the road to protect him. MPs have intervened twice with Early Day Motions calling on the Metropolitan Police to ensure his safety, and have written to the Police Commissioner.

· On 11 June, at 2am, Nils Tolling, who said he was a US marine (denied by the US embassy), physically assaulted Mr. Haw, breaking his nose, and tried to set fire to his placards. Mr. Haw spent the night in hospital under constant observation. Four months later he is still in need of medical treatment. Although the assault occurred in full view of the police across the road, Mr. Haw had to wait 20 minutes for help to arrive from the Royal Parks Police. Evidence was available on CCTV and from two people who made witness statements, and Mr. Tolling was arrested, then released on police bail. The police took no further action until they had medical evidence three weeks later. By 4 July, when they returned to arrest Mr. Tolling, he had left the country. We are not aware of any police complaint to the US embassy.

· In July, a man tried to tear down Mr. Haw’s placards. A woman who had joined Mr. Haw’s protest was hit in the stomach with a placard wielded by the attacker. This time Mr. Haw made a citizen’s arrest and took the man to the police across the road, asking that he be taken into custody. The police refused and let the man go without charge.

· On 20 September, an Israeli man violently broke Mr Haw’s nose again, for which he will require a further operation. The injury makes breathing difficult, particularly given the pollution in Parliament Square. He was not arrested.

For over two years Mr Haw has been braving the elements to express his opposition to this government’s warfare without end, first against Yugoslavia, then Afghanistan and now Iraq. He is particularly angry about the genocide of Iraqi children, to which his line-up of placards and banners along Parliament Square bear witness. He has won a precedent ruling based on his right to freedom of speech under the Human Rights Act. Mr. Haw’s protest and the Community Picket, receiving global media coverage, have become a meeting point for visitors as well as weekly regulars.

In their reply to John McDonnell MP, Charing Cross Police claimed concern for Mr. Haw’s safety, but refused any extra officers on the grounds that: “The area in which [Mr. Haw] conducts his protest is one of the most heavily policed in the UK.” (31 July 2003) Why then can’t Mr Haw get the police to protect him? Why can officers always be found to tell our picket to be quiet and threaten to confiscate our sound system, but no officer comes when one of us is assaulted?

A number of officers have quietly expressed their support for Mr. Haw and for the Community Picket; they clearly respect the public’s right to protest. But officers at Parliament’s gates have mocked Mr. Haw with words and gestures – they laughed as a peaceful supporter was chased and threatened with violence.

We ask our elected representatives to sign MP John McDonnell’s EDM and to stand up for our right to protest and our safety as protesters against this week’s US invasion. Why should we pay for the security of an uncaring oil billionaire with no regard for life or human rights, while those who oppose war are unprotected?

For interviews or more information contact:
Brian Haw 07743 689 045
Community Anti-War Picket 020 7482 2496; fax 020 7209 4761;

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