Monday, August 13, 2007

Update on a recent post #1

On July 28 I wrote about the attempt by the British Airports Authority to prevent a week-long protest camp outside Heathrow Airport that was to address the airport's contribution to global warming and oppose construction of a third runway. The method chosen by BAA was to seek an injunction that would allow police to arrest any member of a long list of groups that attempted to take part in the protest, an injunction that would cover as many as five million people.

When the ruling came down a week ago, BAA got little of what it wanted, certainly not near enough to head off the protest. The groups considered it a great victory. Still, the outcome makes me quite itchy. From the BBC:
BAA has won a High Court ruling banning certain protesters from Heathrow during a week-long climate change camp.

The injunction applies to Plane Stupid, which has a history of "direct action", and protesters from two other groups,
those being Hacan Clearskies and the No Third Runway Action Group. Now, I think it's bad enough that a government feels it can tell people they can't take part in a protest because of what it thinks they might do, but catch the reasoning:
Mrs Justice Swift ruled at the High Court that there was a risk that "a terrorist group may use the disruption caused by the protesters to perpetrate a terrorist act".
Get that? People can be banned from taking part in a protest because of what some government twit imagines in a scare quote some unnamed and unknown third-party "terrorist group" might do. You as a protestor are no longer responsible just for your own actions but for others' as well, even if you have no connection with them, don't know who they are, and have no control over them. The use of the "terrorist" boogeyman to shut down opposition has rarely been clearer.

Still, the protest will go on; in fact, it started a bit early, says RTTNews:
Climate change campaigners have set up camp outside UK's Heathrow on Sunday two days earlier than expected to protest against the airport's expansion plans and climate change.

About 150 protesters started building the Camp for Climate Action, just over half a mile outside the airport's perimeter, and the numbers are expected to swell to 3,000 by Tuesday for a weeklong protest aimed at highlighting the link between global warming and aviation.

Additionally, more than 150,000 activists from across Europe will join them Monday at the Imperial College sports ground, between the villages of Sipson and Harlington.
Undeterred by its loss at court, the government has switched to intimidation and abuse of authority, as the Guardian (UK) informs us:
Armed police will use anti-terrorism powers to "deal robustly" with climate change protesters at Heathrow next week, as confrontations threaten to bring major delays to the already overstretched airport. ...

Scotland Yard's plans for handling the protests are revealed in a document seen by the Guardian, which was produced by Met commander Peter Broadhurst during a legal hearing at the high court which imposed restrictions on a number of named campaigners. ...

The police report makes it clear that the government has encouraged police forces to make greater use of terrorism powers "especially the use of stop and search powers under s44 Terrorism Act 2000".

The law gives police powers to:

· Stop and search people and vehicles for anything that could be used in connection with terrorism

· Search people even if they do not have evidence to suspect them

· Hold people for up to a month without charge

· Search homes and remove protesters' outer clothes, such as hats, shoes and coats.

Last night the protesters said they would not be intimidated.
Good for them. Let's hope they follow through. The best defense against these kinds of tactics is just that: refuse to be intimidated; do what you were going to do anyway.

This is not the first time UK police have engaged in heavy-handed tactics against legal demonstrators: The Guardian article recalls a 2003 anti-war demonstration at RAF Fairford: Police detained, searched, and ultimately turned back two busloads of protestors on their way to the legal demo. Law lords ultimately ruled the stop illegal. Even so,
[p]olice used section 44 of the act 995 times at the Fairford peace camp, even though there was no suggestion of terrorist overtones.
But perhaps the most 1984-ish quote that came out of this was this one:
"With the current terrorism threat, keeping Heathrow safe and secure is a very serious business," said Mark Bullock, BAA Heathrow's managing director.

"Any action taken by the protestors that distracts us or the police from this task is irresponsible and unlawful."
So now for a demonstration to be illegal, it doesn't have to be destructive, disrupting, disabling, even disturbance-causing - it merely needs to be distracting. What's next, disrespectful to its elders?

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