The threat of good deeds: why did the police arrest aid convoy men?

The state broadcaster bans a charitable appeal on behalf of charities raising funds to help Gaza residents rebuild after Israel’s attack – for fear of being associated with criticism of the “good terrorism” carried out by the UK’s ally.

Now those travelling to Gaza to deliver aid to people who have been bombed are targeted by police as though they were about to bomb people! (If only there was the same readiness to seize weapons destined for Israel!)

All of the men arrested have been released without charge. The action taken by police looks suspiciously like an Islamophobic media stunt designed to smear the Viva Palestina convoy and feed into the hysteria about Muslims that the corporate media are drumming up.

Preston’s socialist councillor Michael Lavalette wants answers:

The three Burnley men arrested on Friday night under anti-terror legislation were today (Thursday) released without charge. The men had been held for six days in a secure detention centre in Manchester. The men were arrested on Friday as they drove to join the ‘Viva Palestina’ convoy taking humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Also arrested, as part of the same operation, were six men from Blackburn. They were kept isolated in police vans for 7 hours before being released without charge. Some of those from Blackburn were religious scholars.

The arrests and the treatment of the men in question raise serious questions about policing in Lancashire and about the ‘targeting’ of both the Gaza Convoy and Muslim men in the region. There are serious questions that now need to be answered from Lancashire constabulary. Questions like:

1. Who ordered the stop and arrest of the 9 men?

2. What evidence of ‘wrong-doing’ did the police have?

3. Why (given the fact that the convoy organisers submitted all the names, passport and visa details of those on the convoy) did the police not act sooner if they had ‘real’ or ’significant’ concerns?

4. Who provided the police with the (now obviously flawed) ‘evidence’ that suggested the men were involved in wrong-doing?

5. This was clearly a national police operation. Who led the operation? Did it have Government clearance?

The suspicion is that this was a politically motivated operation to disrupt the convoy. Where are the Labour Ministers on television or in the press defending their operation and explaining the actions that were taken?

The Gaza Convoy is a humanitarian mission and the men travelling from Lancashire had vehicles that were laden with gifts from children in our area for the children of Gaza. The disruption of this trip is nothing short of a disgrace.

George Galloway condemned the timing of the arrests, the arrests themselves and the deliberate efforts of the police to create a story in the press the purposes of which appears to have been to discredit the aid convoy to Gaza. Viva Palestina reports that there was a drop of 80% in donations following the broadcast of the arrests and the police allegations on the BBC on Saturday afternoon.

“Nine innocent people were prevented by the police from joining our convoy with vital aid to meet the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said George Galloway this afternoon.

“The follow up action by the police, which has apparently included the strip-searching of an Imam and his wife in their own home in Blackburn, has gravely damaged their relations with the community whose trust they need to win.

“Anyone with any sense can see that it is in everyone’s interest to encourage Britain’s Muslim community to engage themselves in democratic politics. That is precisely what this convoy – and the huge political, and humanitarian effort throughout Britain’s often alienated Muslim communities which lies behind it – is about.

“To arrest innocent men in such a provocative and hyped operation will achieve precisely the opposite of that engagement. The timing of the operation is seen locally as an attempt to smear and intimidate the
Muslim community and I must say they seem to be right.

“The arrests were clearly deliberately timed for the eve of the departure of the convoy. Photographs of the high-profile snatch on the M65 were immediately fed to the press to maximise the newsworthiness
of the smear that was being perpetrated on the convoy” said Galloway.

“I am writing to the Chief Constable of Lancashire to demand an explanation and will consult Viva Palestina’s lawyers with a view to seeking compensation for the real financial and public relations damage we have suffered as a result. I will also be writing to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to demand action against those who seem to have abused their power and authority as a police officers to produce this really damaging outcome.”

But the events of the last week also raises another significant issue. For the last two years the Government has attempted to divide the Muslim community in this country by launching a programme called Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE). PVE has come with substantial sums of money that can be directed towards projects aimed at stopping ‘extremism’. The funded projects have been varied (and its certainly the case that there is a need for ‘good projects’ in our city and amongst the poorest communities). But PVE isn’t about providing services. Its about obtaining surveillance and criminalising sections of the Muslim community.

For example, how is an potential extremist defined? People who fall under suspicion include those who have an interest in global politics (so opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or opposition to the murderous regime in Israel could lead to someone being identified as a potential ’extremist’.) Of course that could include someone like me – but I’m not subject to PVE surveillance because I’m not Muslim, and this is the crux – its the combination of the political interest with the religious beliefs and style of dress of the individual that marks them out as ’suspicious’; and its one reason why converts to Islam are particularly targetted. Here is the Government’s own document PVE – A Strategy for Delivery (May 2008), which states that:

“The most severe terrorist threat currently comes from individuals and groups who distort Islam. … It is
not the role of Government to seek to change a religion. However, where theology is being distorted to justify violent extremist rhetoric or activity and threaten both Muslims and non-Muslims, Government should reinforce faith understanding and thereby build resilience.”

PVE is actually an extension of the ‘war on terror’. Its intention is to isolate the ‘enemy within’. In this form it is no different to other historic strategies of ‘divide and rule’ that the British state has used to isolate and intimidate minorities such as the Irish community in the 1970s or Communist Party members at the hieght of the Cold War.

PVE was piloted in a number of places across Britain – including Preston and Reading. Both these areas were included because police sources argued they were ‘hotbeds’ of extremism – though there is no evidence of this being the case in Preston at all (there have been no high profile ‘terror’ arrests in Preston and there is no network of ‘political islamists’ in the city.)

In Preston one of the major PVE interventions is called the Channel Project. Here is what the police have to say about it:

“The Channel Project is all about supporting vulnerable individuals. It is a local and community-based initiative between the police, local authority and the local community. The project takes referrals from a number of sources on individuals that may be vulnerable to becoming involved in violent extremism. A joint risk assessment of each individual case is then made by project members and any issues of concern are identified. A programme of intervention tailored to the needs of the individual is then developed and implemented. Involvement of community partners is key. They will have expertise and insight into the process of assessment, referral and intervention. This process will make the vulnerable person confident
in their rejection and condemnation of violence. If you would like to know more about this initiative.”

The language used makes it seem almost ’social workesque’! The ‘needs’ of ‘vulnerable individuals’; a ‘programme of intervention’ etc. You have to stop for a minute to realise that all of this is being done without the knowledge, input or consent of the ‘vulnerable individual’! (Their ‘vulnerability’ remember is opposition or hostility to the imperial policies of the British state combined with the fact that they are Muslim!)

But of greater concern is their claim that they take ‘referrals from a range of people’ (people with a grudge? spies in the community? the security services? who?) and that ‘involved community partners’ are key.

There is an old saying that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. The ‘involvement of the key community players’ essentially means those that have taken funding for their projects – certainly that was the indication of what was happening in Derby and Reading (two PVE areas featured on Panorama on Monday evening): once the projects get their funding the police and security services come calling asking ’surveillance’ questions.

The PVE agenda brings a ‘dirty money’ reward to a few ‘community leaders’, but in the process it turns them into an outreach of the security services. The events of last week-end and the harassment faced by 9 innocent Muslim men in Lancashire should bring to an end this form of ‘engagement’.

Police state in the UK?

A former securocrat issues a warning:

Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.

Dame Stella accused ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists.

“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Dame Stella said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.

“It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state,” she said.

But wait – there’s more! International criticism now:

In a further blow to ministers, an international study by lawyers and judges accused countries such as Britain and America of “actively undermining” the law through the measures they have introduced to counter terrorism.

The report, by the International Commission of Jurists, said: “The failure of states to comply with their legal duties is creating a dangerous situation wherein terrorism, and the fear of terrorism, are undermining basic principles of international human rights law.”

The report claimed many measures introduced were illegal and counter-productive and that legal systems put in place after the Second World War were well equipped to handle current threats. Arthur Chaskelson, the chairman of the report panel, said: “In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world.

“Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights.’’

These warnings aren’t being heeded. In fact the nebulous category of “extremist” is to be broadened:

The government is considering plans that would lead to thousands more British Muslims being branded as extremists, the Guardian has learned. The proposals are in a counterterrorism strategy which ministers and security officials are drawing up that is due to be unveiled next month.

Some say the plans would see views held by most Muslims in Britain being classed by the government as extreme.

According to a draft of the strategy, Contest 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote Sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Contest 2 would widen the definition of extremists to those who hold views that clash with what the government defines as shared British values. Those who advocate the wider definition say hardline Islamist interpretation of the Qur’an leads to views that are the root cause of the terrorism threat Britain faces. But opponents say the strategy would brand the vast majority of British Muslims as extremists and alienate them even further.

This counter-terrorism “mission creep” into the realm of politics is worrying. Not least because it will be counter-productive.

If the government truly wanted to tackle violent extremism it would pull our armed forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This would also be a hugely popular move – most especially for military families who are seeing their loved ones killed and injured in conflicts that can only make us less safe.

Privatising the database state – who will profit from our loss of liberty?

Another costly IT project that the private sector fails to deliver on time? Could cost more than money, our civil liberties are at stake, reports The Guardian:

The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone’s calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

A cabinet decision to put the management of the multibillion pound database of all UK communications traffic into private hands would be accompanied by tougher legal safeguards to guarantee against leaks and accidental data losses.

But in his strongest criticism yet of the superdatabase, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who has firsthand experience of working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, told the Guardian such assurances would prove worthless in the long run and warned it would prove a “hellhouse” of personal private information.

“Authorisations for access might be written into statute. The most senior ministers and officials might be designated as scrutineers. But none of this means anything,” said Macdonald. “All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen.”

The home secretary postponed the introduction of legislation to set up the superdatabase in October and instead said she would publish a consultation paper in the new year setting out the proposal and the safeguards needed to protect civil liberties. She has emphasised that communications data, which gives the police the identity and location of the caller, texter or web surfer but not the content, has been used as important evidence in 95% of serious crime cases and almost all security service operations since 2004 including the Soham and 21/7 bombing cases.

Until now most communications traffic data has been held by phone companies and internet service providers for billing purposes but the growth of broadband phone services, chatrooms and anonymous online identities mean that is no longer the case.

The Home Office’s interception modernisation programme, which is working on the superdatabase proposal, argues that it is no longer good enough for communications companies to be left to retrieve such data when requested by the police and intelligence services. A Home Office spokeswoman said last night the changes were needed so law enforcement agencies could maintain their ability to tackle serious crime and terrorism.

Senior Whitehall officials responsible for planning for a new database say there is a significant difference between having access to “communications data” – names and addresses of emails or telephone numbers, for example – and the actual contents of the communications. “We have been very clear that there are no plans for a database containing any content of emails, texts or conversations,” the spokeswoman said.

External estimates of the cost of the superdatabase have been put as high as £12bn, twice the cost of the ID cards scheme, and the consultation paper, to be published towards the end of next month, will include an option of putting it into the hands of the private sector in an effort to cut costs. But such a decision is likely to fuel civil liberties concerns over data losses and leaks. Macdonald, who left his post as DPP in October, told the Guardian: “The tendency of the state to seek ever more powers of surveillance over its citizens may be driven by protective zeal. But the notion of total security is a paranoid fantasy which would destroy everything that makes living worthwhile. We must avoid surrendering our freedom as autonomous human beings to such an ugly future. We should make judgments that are compatible with our status as free people.”

Maintaining the capacity to intercept suspicious communications was critical in an increasingly complex world, he said. “It is a process which can save lives and bring criminals to justice. But no other country is considering such a drastic step. This database would be an unimaginable hell-house of personal private information,” he said. “It would be a complete readout of every citizen’s life in the most intimate and demeaning detail. No government of any colour is to be trusted with such a roadmap to our souls.”

The moment there was a security crisis the temptation for more commonplace access would be irresistible, he said.

Other critics of the plan point to the problems of keeping the database secure, both from the point of view of the technology and of deliberate leaks. The problem would be compounded if private companies manage the system. “If there is a breach of security in that database it would be utterly devastating,” one said.

Citizen Smith is only half guilty

How’s that for Newspeak? They’ll make me Central Scrutiniser one of these days…

Much as I dislike Jacqui Smith, she is not wholly to blame for the latest data-loss scandal.

From the Campaign for Public Ownership:

Data including the names, addresses and dates of birth of around 33,000 offenders in England and Wales with six or more recordable convictions in the past 12 months on the Police National Computer have been lost by the private company PA Consulting, contractors for the Home Office. Also lost were the names and dates of birth of 10,000 prolific and other priority offenders, and the names, dates of birth and, in some cases, the expected prison release dates of all 84,000 prisoners held in England and Wales.

Sounds familiar?

Back in December it was announced that US firm Pearson Driving Assessments, a contractor to the Driving Standards Agency, had lost the details of three million candidates for the driving theory test. Pearson reported that a hard drive was missing from a “secure facility” in Iowa.

And of course earlier this summer we had the news that thousands of British [sic] schoolchildren would have to wait until the autumn for key test results after the US-owned company brought in to administer the tests ‘ETS Europe’ failed to deliver on time.

Shadow Chancellor Dominic Grieve says, a propos of the latest loss of data by a private company: “What is more scandalous is that it is not the first time that the government has been shown to be completely incapable of protecting the integrity of highly sensitive data, rendering them unfit to be charged with protecting our safety.”

Of course, Grieve doesn’t mention that it’s a private company, not the government, which has lost the data. He doesn’t because he and his party are fanatical supporters of privatisation- and the process of sub-contracting government tasks to private, often foreign owned companies. In fact, it was the Conservatives who started this process when they were last in power. The biggest charge that can be made against the present Labour government is that they have continued with such a disastrous policy. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, before the days of privatisation and sub-contracting government work to private companies, such loss of data never occurred.

Once again, the British people are losing out due to adherence to neo-liberal dogma.

It’s time for the government to end the sub-contracting of government work to private companies and to keep all such work ‘in-house’. Not only would this reduce the chance of confidential data going missing, it would also save the taxpayer a small fortune in paying for inefficient private companies.

UK govt terrorising free speech and civil liberties, says UN

Given that the government has just revealed that the DNA of forty thousand innocent children is stored on a national database, this is a timely report.

From The Morning Star:

PEACE campaigners called for the repeal of anti-terror laws on Friday after a damning United Nations report warned that Britain’s terror laws were having a “chilling effect” on free speech and civil liberties.

The UN committee on human rights warned that provisions under the Terrorism Act 2006 covering encouragement of terrorism are too “broad and vague” and should be amended to prevent “a disproportionate interference with freedom of expression.”

People convicted of encouragement of terrorism face up to seven years in jail.

The report, which is part of the UN committee’s analysis into human rights in Britain, condemned the extension of detention without charge from 14 to 28 days and said that it was “even more disturbed” at plans to extend this to 42 days.

Despite a major rebellion by Labour MPs, the government narrowly won the 42-day Commons vote in June with the help of the Democratic Unionists.

But the Lords are expected to defeat it when they vote on the anti-terror Bill this autumn.

Britain already has the longest period of pre-charge detention in the Western world.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn branded the plans “absurd and excessive,” warning: “Instead of building links with communities, these laws serve to isolate and frighten people. Parliament should be defending civil liberties, not take them away.”

Stop the War Coalition co-founder John Rees welcomed the UN report as “conclusive and authoritative” evidence that civil liberties have been victims of war.

“This government has no right to lecture other countries, whether be it in the Caucasus or the Middle East, about their civil liberties or human rights records,” he stormed.

Mr Rees called for a “wide-ranging review of the government’s civil liberties record and the effect of the anti-terror laws and reverse its policy on 42-day detention.”

The UN report also criticised ministers’ treatment of the Chagos islanders, who have been fighting for their right to return home since 1967, when Harold Wilson’s government turfed them out and handed the island in the Indian Ocean to the US to use as its military base.

Mr Corbyn, who has been campaigning on their behalf in Parliament, said: “The government has used mediaeval orders to block their right to return and the islanders are still fighting their case in the House of Lords.

“It is time to end this travesty of justice and human rights.”

Gordon Brown? Lock ‘im up!

Mark Thomas explains in Red Pepper:

Such is the state of democracy in Britain that you could be forgiven for thinking that there are two types of MPs: those who have been in prison and those who should be. There are many reasons to sling the blighters behind bars, not least of which is the fact that they are an MP, crime enough in most folk’s books. However, there is now an even more compelling legal and moral reason to call in the police to deal with our honourable members. Put simply – we have them bang to rights. They have broken the law and there is a way we might get these elected miscreants in the dock. This is how we can do it.

MPs have a curious habit of passing laws and then believing they don’t really apply to them. No more so than the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, sometimes referred to as the ‘Brian Haw law’ as it was framed specifically to kick out the veteran peace protestor Haw from Parliament Square. Socpa, as it’s fondly known, requires us to get permission from the police should we wish to demonstrate in an area of London that spans from Tate Britain to the Mall and over Westminster Bridge to the South Bank of the Thames.

This is the law that Maya Evans was arrested under for reading out the names of the Iraqi and British war dead at the Cenotaph. She did not have permission and was convicted of taking part in an illegal demonstration.

But this is just the start of the Kafkaesque madness of this law. One person with one banner counts as a demonstration and must get permission from the police six days in advance of holding said banner. I have had to apply for, and have been given permission, to wear a red nose on Red Nose Day in Parliament Square as this is classed as a demonstration. I have got permission to stand holding a small banner saying ‘Support the Poppy Appeal’, as this too is deemed to be a demonstration.

This law is not just idiotic, it is totemic. Nowhere is the relationship of the citizen to the state so clearly defined as here. We have to account for ourselves to the state, while the state becomes less accountable to us. This is not the way things work in democracy.

However, MPs who rushed this law through parliament with little heed to what it really meant could now find themselves on the receiving end of it. On 29 August 2007, when Gordon Brown, along with Ken Livingstone and Nelson Mandela, unveiled the Mandela statue in Parliament Square, they took part in a political demonstration. They celebrated the life of a man who ran the armed wing of the ANC, dedicated his life to the collapse of apartheid and made political speeches.

Did they have permission from the police under Socpa? No. They have broken the law.

Wrexham MP Ian Lucas spoke about the need to redesign the Union Jack flag to include the Welsh dragon on 6 November 2008. He was then photographed holding said flag in Parliament Square. Did he have permission under Socpa? I think not. And if I need the police to say I can wear a red nose, then he needs them to say he can wave a politically contentious flag.

As there is no definition of what constitutes a demonstration you have to turn to the Oxford English Dictionary, which states a demo can be ‘an expression of opinion’. Thus each time an MP speaks to the TV cameras on College Green they could be breaking the very law they blithely rushed through parliament. They are, after all, expressing an opinion, vocally and intended for public consumption, in an area where they need to write to the police six days in advance for permission.

Just before Christmas my lawyers wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions asking them to investigate MPs, including the prime minister, for breaches of Socpa. The DPP insisted that the police should judge if there was a case to answer and the matter is now in the hands of D/Supt Peter Newman of Westminster South Division.

Will the police bring charges against Mr Brown and Mr Lucas and a host of other offenders? I doubt it, which is why I am preparing a legal fund to challenge any decision not to prosecute.

Here is how you can help dear reader. You can buy a badge – I put Gordon Brown in the dock – online at http://www.markthomasinfo.com for £2. All monies not used in the legal case will go to Index on Censorship.

You can also go to http://www.shopanmp.com and report any MPs you see on the news giving interviews on College Green or Parliament Square, so we can constantly update D/Supt Newman with a list of fresh offenders. If luck is with us, Jack Straw won’t be picking a shit-kicking fight with prison officers over no strike agreements – they could be locking his cell door if he is not too careful.

Why Labour won’t fight David Davis – their MPs support his stand

Not Andy Burnham, obviously. I’m talking about your average real Labour MP, not one of the New Labour Borg. Backbenchers Bob Marshall-Andrews and Ian Gibson have come out in favour of David Davis.

Labour won’t stand against him, Kelvin Mackenzie’s not been on the box spouting his mouth off for a few days, not since footage of him slagging off Hull surfaced (and someone might have told him his old pal Rupert Murdoch, Australia’s answer to Mr Burns, can’t fund his campaign because he’s an American citizen!).

The Liberals aren’t opposing Davis, as promised. Violinist Nigel Kennedy is backing Davis, and folk singer Billy Bragg is being sounded out (pardon the pun). Former British Army Colonel Tim Collins, who was one of those rumoured ‘independents’, has said he backs Davis. Even the fascist BNP aren’t standing against his Freedom campaign, which smacks of opportunism – they would probably introduce indefinite internment…

Can we conclude that the argument in favour of 42 day pre-charge dentention has been lost?

Who will come forward to defend the nascent police state before the voters? Not even the fascists will!

Brown’s defence of his police state measures was overshadowed by Hazel Blears losing her laptop and the sensitive data on it, but we can be certain he won’t be taking fight against David Davis.

Now, I recall watching David Davis being interviewed by Andrew Marr on the Sunday before the vote which led to his Howard Beale moment. My thoughts were: here’s a sincere guy, talking about an important policy – it’s just a shame he’s a Tory.

I don’t know where Davis is going with this – if it’s part of a scheme to win Tory leadership, to form a new party, or to actually reverse the many draconian laws passed in recent years. But I do know that, on the issues he’s dealing with at the moment – I’m on his side.

These are turbulent times, for sure. Seemingly strange things will happen – and Davis going out on a limb to fight terrorism by defending democratic rights, well, that’s just one of those things…

As The Socialist observes:

This incident shows the volatility of British politics at present; many people feel there is no alternative to the sleaze-ridden incompetence of the main political parties. But it also shows the possibility of a new right-wing populist party forming in future. The Tory Party’s fault lines run deep – patrician one-nation Tories rub shoulders with Thatcherites, right-wing libertarians, right-wing authoritarians, anti-EU nationalists etc – and the consensus behind Cameron is a fragile one.

But we can put no faith in capitalist politicians leading the fight against the dangerous 42-day law. It should be opposed by the workers’ movement as a danger to innocent Muslims and to all opposing unjust wars and other government policies, as the legislation can be potentially used against any worker.

Davis cannot speak for workers, he is a right-wing Tory. He supports the anti-gay section 28, the return of the death penalty, and has called for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped; yet his attacks on Britain’s ‘surveillance society’ struck a chord. It shows how far the Labour Party has moved to the right that such a politician may be seen as the only sane man in the asylum.