Pete Speller is a video journalist, blogger and campaigner based in Oxford, UK. He works developing video and technology support for protests and justice movements, such as with the group Students for a Free Tibet where he worked supporting citizen journalists in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics.


Pete Speller is a video journalist, blogger and campaigner based in Oxford, UK.

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Tibet: the destruction of Lhasa

Lhasa is a site of cultural and historical importance for Tibet ckmck, under a CC License

In 2001 the Taliban drilled holes into ancient statues carved into an Afghan cliff-face known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Into those holes they placed sticks of dynamite and in the flick of a switch a millenia of history was gone. Forever. A site of great value in the history of Buddhism, Afghanistan and the Middle East destroyed because it did not fit with the political and religious ideology of those with power.

In early May 2013, I read the news the construction work has begun at another site of historical and cultural importance – the old Tibetan city of Lhasa, around the Jokhang temple. The plan: to replace the old city with a ‘tourist city’ and a giant mall. I cannot describe the rage and sadness I felt at reading this.

Lhasa was founded in the 7th century by King Songtsen Gampo as the capital of his Tibetan Empire that reached far into modern China. The Jokhang temple and the Barkhor around it are of unimaginable importance to Tibetans and Buddhists throughout the world. Many pilgrims walk from the far edges of Tibet to visit it.

Whilst the Jokhang temple itself is protected as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the area around it is not.

This destruction will forever change the face of Lhasa, already it is a city divided into Chinese areas and Tibetan areas. With the destruction of the old city and its replacing with a giant shopping mall and ‘tourist city’ Tibetans are further isolated and marginalized in their own land.

In Beijing there is a park, the Ethnic Minorities Park*, where you can see the sterile, government-approved version of Tibetan culture that will replace the real thing in Lhasa. Chinese actors perform traditional Tibetan dances, where replica Tibetan buildings tell a fairy tale about Tibetan life and culture.

Of course there’s more to it. The old city has played host to numerous protests and demonstrations against Chinese occupation. It is a symbol of Tibetan resistance to the occupation.

And so under the cloak of ‘modernization,’ an area of incalculable historical and cultural importance will be lost forever.

It should be down to Tibetans to decide how to modernize Tibet, not to have it forced on them.

I have started a petition asking Kishore Rao, director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre to intervene and #SaveLhasa. Please sign and share it as widely as you can.

*The original signs for the Ethnic Minorities Park were mistranslated as ‘Racist Park’, a far more accurate description.

Chinese police fire on Tibetan protesters

The People’s Armed Police have celebrated Chinese New Year by opening fire on unarmed Tibetan protesters in two towns in north-western Kham (Chinese west Sichuan) province.

Last year, 16 Tibetans, monks, nuns and lay people set themselves on fire in protest at the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since the uprising in 2008, Tibet has been under de facto martial law. Columns of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police marching through cities and towns in Tibet are now a common sight.

When posters threatening more self-immolations began to appear in towns in Drango county the Public Security Bureau started arresting people. The posters stated that more protesters would set themselves on fire if the Chinese government did not listen to the concerns of Tibetan people. A large unarmed group that gathered to protest against the arrests were fired on indiscriminately by the People’s Armed Police. It was confirmed on Tuesday that six people had died following the shooting, with a further 30 thought to be seriously injured. Free Tibet Campaign has reported that many wounded Tibetans were too scared of arrest to seek medical treatment. This is likely to increase the numbers of those killed as a result of the shooting.

Yoten was one of the Tibetans shot on Monday

After this shooting on Monday, news came through on Tuesday of second incident. An estimated 600 security personnel arrived at a peaceful demonstration in the main town of neighbouring Serther county and began firing into the crowd. Five Tibetans have been confirmed dead with more than 40 seriously injured.

So far there has been little, if any, attention from the mainstream media and silence from governments around the world.

The Kalon Tripa1 Dr Lobsang Sangay said: ‘Silence from the world community sends a clear message to China that its repressive and violent measures to handle tensions in Tibetan areas are acceptable.’

The increasing scale of the protests and the level of force the Chinese government is willing to use to suppress them is increasing the desperation of many Tibetans in Tibet. Until global diplomatic pressure is put on China to cease the brutal crackdown on peaceful and unarmed protests, it is feared many more Tibetans may lose their lives.

In response to the shootings, candle-lit vigils are being held by Tibetans and supporters across the world and many Losar2 celebrations have been cancelled.

1. The Kalon Tripa is the equivalent of the Prime Minister in the Central Tibetan Administration aka Tibetan Government In Exile.

2. Losar is Tibetan New Year which this year falls on 22 February.

Fortnum & Mason convictions are unacceptable assault on protest

In Courtroom 7 of Westminster Magistrates Court on Thursday, I joined many others convicted
so far this year for protesting against unjust austerity measures. For my protest, I walked into a shop and sat on the floor. It just so happened that this shop was Fortnum & Mason’s – the Queen’s grocer – and owned by a company guilty of millions of pounds worth of tax avoidance.

District Judge Snow ruled that by failing to leave the Queen’s corner-shop while others behaved in an intimidating manner, we were guilty of what the law terms ‘joint enterprise’.

The broader implications of this ruling are simply that anyone who is present when a crime is committed, and who doesn’t actively disassociate themselves from that crime, is liable to be considered equally culpable.

When I thought about this, after the ruling, a number of other ‘joint enterprises’ came to mind.

In 2008, the Lehman Brothers collapse plunged the global economy into a recession that has brought entire countries to bankruptcy, sparked the destruction of public services, and left millions world wide jobless, homeless and disenfranchised. But the financial services sector still trundles along seemingly oblivious.

As my co-defendant Adam Ramsay has pointed out, previously when banks have caused recessions, heads have rolled (metaphorically speaking) – but not on this occasion. The scale of the prosecution this time would be astronomical. By the same logic that informed the judgement that we received on Thursday morning, anyone at a bank who traded in the bundles of toxic loans known as collateralized debt obligations, is potentially guilty of causing the financial crisis through ‘joint enterprise’.

Next year PC Simon Harwood will face trial for manslaughter over assaulting Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in 2009. By the same logic that we were found guilty for the acts of others, any police officer present when Ian Tomlinson was assualted by PC Simon Harwood, by not disassociating themselves from the policing of the protest, is equally to blame for his death.

In the digital age, actions such as the Fortnum & Mason’s occupation, are increasingly organised over Facebook or Twitter. If you attend one of these events and someone does something illegal, the Fortnum ruling says that you can be arrested and convicted for not leaving the scene immediately.

The government and the police have, over the last 20 years or so, been ramping up a policy of criminalizing protest. They no longer see it as their role to facilitate protest in a democratic society. Instead they see their role as one of regulation, control and suppression.

This new interpretation of the law could see many hundreds more arrests and convictions of people whose only crime is to attend a protest and many thousands more intimidated into keeping their mouths shut. There is only one way to challenge this and it is not in the courtrooms, but on the streets.

Stand up for Tibet! G20 leaders told

G20 banner drop for Tibet

Photo: Tibet Network copyright Students for a Free Tibet

Two activists from Students for a Free Tibet hung a banner and a Tibetan flag from Cannes Ville station as world leaders arrived earlier today for the start of the G20 summit. They called on them to take urgent action to address the situation in Tibet – where nine Tibetan monks and one nun have set themselves on fire this year.

The news came through last week that for the 10th time this year, a young Tibetan has set fire to themselves in protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the ongoing crackdown on human rights and religious freedom since the 2008 protests.

Three years ago there were widespread protests across Tibet, reported globally as rioting, though this was limited to the capital city, Lhasa. After a couple of weeks of unprecedented global attention on both the protests and the brutal nature of the military crackdown in Tibet, the fickle eye of the media moved elsewhere. The protests and oppression, however, continued.

What happened in 2008 following the protests was the de facto imposition of martial law enforced by the paramilitary People’s Armed Police. The situation has changed little since then; if anything, it has got worse.

One of the most heavily policed monasteries is Kirti of Ngaba town in the Amdo province (Chinese Qinghai province). This has been the site of some of the largest demonstrations and the most brutal crackdowns.

On 16 March this year 20-year-old monk Phuntsok Jaruntsang from Kirti monastery set himself alight. He called for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Police beat him whilst he was on fire and he died at 3am the following morning. He set himself alight on the anniversary of the death of 13 monks who were shot dead in 2008 for protesting. This act triggered a series of similar acts by nine monks and one nun from Kirti and surrounding monasteries.

On 15 August, 29-year-old Tsewang Norbu from Nyitso monastery; on 26 September Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchok, both 18 years old, of Kirti monastery; on 3 October 17-year-old Kalsang Wangchuk of Kirti monastery; on 7 October 19-year-old Choephel and 18-year-old Kayang, formerly of Kirti monastery; on 15 October 19-year-old former monk Norbu Dramdrul, and on 17 October 20-year-old Tenzin Wangmo, a nun of Dechen Chokorling, set themselves alight.

On 25 October, 38-year-old Dawa Tsering, a monk of Kardze monastery, set himself alight and called for the return of HH Dalai Lama and the reunification of the Tibetan people. He was dragged from the gates of Kardze monastery by security personnel and taken away. The People’s Armed Police surrounded the monastery and are still there.

Six of the self-immolators have died; the whereabouts and state of health of the others is unknown.

Campaign groups are calling for an international diplomatic intervention to apply pressure on the Chinese government to allow independent media and human rights observers into the area to investigate.

Pema Yoko, Director of Students for a Free Tibet UK, said: ‘Today the world is standing up for Tibet. We are calling on global leaders to take co-ordinated action now to pressure Chinese President Hu Jintao to withdraw Chinese troops and armed police from towns and monasteries in eastern Tibet.’

Tibet campaign groups
have called an international day of action today, 2 November, to demand global diplomatic intervention to bring human rights observers into Tibet.

In Britain, Tibetans and supporters will hold a vigil at the Chinese Embassy on Portland Place in London at 6pm. For events in other countries check out the Stand Up for Tibet website.

To hold a banner is not a crime!

The imprisonment last week of student activist Edd Bauer for holding a banner on a bridge marks a disturbing escalation in the British police’s efforts to criminalize dissent. The news broke on 19 September that one of the three students arrested holding a banner on a bridge next to the Lib Dem conference venue had been refused bail and was being held on remand in HM Prison Birmingham.

His arrest is worrying enough: rarely, if ever, are activists arrested – let alone charged – for such a small and peaceful protest. This is, however, an escalation of the use extra-judicial punishment, presumption of guilt and use of arrest for political and intelligence-gathering purposes. In recommending that someone be denied bail and have their right to liberty taken from them because of their alleged membership of a group, the police have grossly stepped beyond their remit.

Edd Bauer

Edd Bauer.

A solicitor with more than 30 years’ experience commented, ‘This is utterly absurd. It is totally disproportionate and obviously political.’ He went on to say that whilst the offense, under Section 22a of the Road Traffic Act, can carry a maximum sentence of imprisonment, that would typically only apply in extreme cases.

The justification given for this disproportionate treatment was that Bauer’s ‘membership of a group’ meant he posed a serious risk to the public. That membership of a group is enough to incarcerate someone, regardless of what they may or may not have done (at the point of arrest under the British legal system you are technically still innocent until proven guilty) or what other members may have done is seriously worrying. I am a member of Greenpeace: since some of their members engage in illegal protest, does this mean I am liable to be imprisoned for holding a banner?

Bail would typically only be refused if there was significant risk of the defendant fleeing the country or if they posed significant risk to the public. Given that the alleged membership in question is either the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and/or UK Uncut, it is hard to understand how, due to Bauer’s alleged membership, he poses a ‘significant risk to the public’. Both of these organizations are peaceful in their words and actions.

There is a disturbing trend in detention of activists, with the police coming up with more and more obscure laws that allow them to arrest protesters. In previous years when police wanted to gather information from protesters they used stop and search powers. However, police were forced to pay fines for wrongful use of these powers at the Kingsnorth Camp for Climate Action. As activists became better educated about stop and search powers, police were unable to use them to gather intelligence on protesters. After a brief flirtation with Section 50 of the Police Reform Act, they seemed to decide it was easier to just arrest people, take their details and come up with a charge later on. It was made clear by a senior police officer after the mass arrest of protesters at Fortnum & Masons that the motivation for the arrest was to gather intelligence, even through deceit.

It now seems that the modus operandi is for police to make a decision, use any means necessary to enforce it, whether legal or not, and find a law to justify it later, regardless of how tenuous or unlikely a prosecution would be. This is how the Chinese police operate in Tibet, one of the most heavily oppressed countries in the world. The role of the police in Britain is to act in the interests of the public, not to save corporations and political parties from embarrassment.

In order for a genuine democratic process to exist in this country, of which protest is a cornerstone, the police need to drastically rethink their approach to policing protest. It is not a crime to hold a banner, it is not a crime to protest, it is not even a crime to embarrass a political party. It is a crime to silence dissent.

About 70 people gathered outside the court in Birmingham on 27 September when Edd Bauer – having spent 10 days in prison – again appeared before magistrates. This time he was granted bail – and will appear in court on trial in October. Meanwhile, he has been suspended indefinitely from his elected position of Vice-President of Education at Birmingham Guild of Students without disciplinary hearing or due process.

More details on the Banner drops are not a crime website.

Sign the petition to reinstate Edd here.

Taking on tar sands

Hundreds gathered outside the White House in August to urge Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Photo by tarsandaction under a CC License.

The Canadian tar sands is often called the biggest and most destructive industrial project on the planet. If we want to prevent catastrophic climate change this is where the line must be drawn. The action currently being undertaken in the US to halt the Keystone XL pipeline is a crucial battle in the fight to end tar sands extraction. 

Taking on Tarmageddon: Trailer from Taking on Tarmageddon on Vimeo.

Earlier this year I spent two weeks filming the documentary Taking on Tarmageddon following a group of students from the UK campaign network People & Planet investigating the tar sands. At the invitation of the former chief Al Lameman, we spent our time there staying with the Beaver Lake Cree Nation who are at the front lines fighting the oil companies to preserve their land, their hunting grounds, their health, even their way of life, both traditional and modern.

One of the first things to hit me was the contrast between where we were camping on the reservation and the utter destruction that we would see when we visited places like Shell’s Scotford Upgrader or Devon’s Jackfish in-situ projects. It made it all the more real what stands to be lost on a local level from the tar sands.

Taking on Tarmageddon: In-situ Extraction sites from Taking on Tarmageddon on Vimeo.

This was further compounded when we attended the Beaver Lake Cree Nation Pow Wow. As we watched the dancers in their amazing costumes the complexity of the issues around the Beaver Lake Cree's fight against the tar sands began to sink in. Earlier that day we had been chased by security around various in-situ extraction sites near Conklin.

The first shot of the video from this trip shows the level of destruction caused by tar sands. So this might seem black and white, but the only reason we were able to get around the in-situ sites was that our driver from the Beaver Lake Cree reservation was a former oil-patch worker. And that's the issue with the tar sands in Canada. Everything and everyone is linked to the tar sands. Every job in some way contributes to the oil industry. It was not an expected finding for us.

We were very lucky to be able to interview a First Nation man who is a former oil worker. He told us about how every day on his way in he had to drive past a native burial ground in the middle of an oil patch. He had to look at it, fenced off and surrounded by total devastation to the natural world. He told us that if he was to go to it and make an offering of tobacco, even just to throw a couple of cigarettes over the fence, he would lose his job. He got to the point where he just couldn't do it anymore, he was faced with making a decision that involved not only quitting that job, but refraining from having anything further to do with the oil sands. However, he couldn't say he'd never go back, he had to make the decision between living by his morals and providing for his family.

This is the same choice that faces every Albertan: do they provide for their families doing something so destructive or do they struggle to find work elsewhere?

While we were driving around Conklin we saw early construction and clearing work on the Harvest BlackGold project due to start producing bitumen in 2015 at an estimated 30,000 barrels per day. Due to this massive expansion in tar sand operations it is estimated greenhouse gas emissions from all tar sands projects will increase from 27 million tons per year in 2006 to 144 million tons per year in 2020. And it is only because of this expansion that projects like Keystone XL are even being considered. 

The students in Taking on Tarmageddon are in the UK now planning their campaign. The film will be a crucial part of this campaign, allowing them to communicate their message further and wider than they would otherwise be able to. In November a group of young people from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation will come to the UK to continue building international solidarity to bring and end to tar sands extraction and a genuine transition to renewable energy.

The process is an ass!

Birmingham magistrates court. Picture by Ell Brown under a Creative Commons licence.

Lawyers in the UK have posed some serious questions about the way judges and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have handled the cases from last week’s riots, with major concerns around due process.

The vast majority of the defendants will be on legal aid. Given that the Legal Services Commission has been underfunded for the last decade this massive influx of cases will put even more pressure on a system already on the brink of collapse. With such large numbers of defendants, many have received only a phone call from a duty solicitor. Lawyers have expressed concern that the waiting time to see a solicitor could potentially lead to detainees opting not to be represented in order to go home sooner.

Another area of concern is around the pressure on the CPS to deal with these cases as quickly as possible leading to rushed decisions to charge defendants, rather than bail them pending investigation. This leads to questions around evidence gathering and disclosure. Given that these cases are being dealt with so quickly, and the thousands of hours of CCTV footage, hundreds of witness reports and other evidence sources the police need to go through, the reliability of the evidence has come into question.

Much of the evidence will have come from police who were on the scene. But, given the circumstances, the police will not have been able to make detailed notes until much later. As has been seen in the past with the Ian Tomlinson case, this can lead to discrepancies in police accounts. With courts operating around the clock to process defendants and the pressure on the CPS to move things forward as quickly as possible, the ability of solicitors to properly advise defendants could be hampered. Due to the speed at which cases are being sent to court, evidential disclosure from the CPS prior to court appearance may not have been sufficient in some cases to allow defence solicitors to properly advise their clients.

The disregarding of sentencing guidelines by magistrates raises concerns that solicitors will bring cases to appeal, further prolonging them and potentially leading to cases being overturned or sentences reduced. This also raises questions of human rights. Courts are charged with delivering justice and ensuring sentences are proportionate to the crimes. If they are allowed to throw this out of the window based on public perception then this is becoming dangerously close to mob justice.

That councils are evicting entire families because of the acts of a single member amounts to collective punishment, historically the preserve of an occupying army. During armed conflict, collective punishment is considered a war crime and is a direct breech of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the protection of civilians in times of war. Article 33 of this convention states: "No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."

While we’re not living under military occupation in the UK, one would hope that the same applies to citizens in times of peace. I’ve never really bought the "we're living in a police state" line touted by many radical leftists but with international conventions and domestic law so readily thrown aside to placate Daily Mail readers and new and potentially more dangerous powers for police on the horizon, I find myself wondering what lies ahead for the UK.

Bowing out

As thousands of people all over the world marched through towns and cities last Saturday to mark the 52nd anniversary of the Lhasa Uprising in Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced that he will devolve his power to the Central Tibetan Administration (aka Tibetan Government in Exile) and the Kalon Tripa (elected Prime Minister). This move ends the role of the Dalai Lamas as political leader of Tibet which was established by Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, in the 17th century. This is both an important move towards true democracy and a strategic move in terms of the future of the relationship between Tibet and China.

To explain and understand what this move means for Tibet there is some background to go over. The Chinese government recently passed a law that reportedly states that no Buddhist lama may be reincarnated without their permission. This is a misunderstanding of the law; what it actually states is that no lama may be recognized without the permission of the Chinese government.

As with any position of power derived from ‘divine mandate’, the process of being recognized as a Tulku (reincarnated lama) is somewhat tenuous and has been open to abuse even before the involvement of meddling bureaucrats from the Chinese State Council. The change in the law corrects, in their view, an earlier oversight on their part that created one of the most controversial political prisoners in the world.

In 1995 a five-year-old boy from Nagchu province, Gedun Chokyi Nyima, was arrested. He had recently been recognized by the Dalai Lama as Tibet’s second most important religious leader, the Panchen Lama. It is believed he has been kept under house arrest in Beijing for the last 16 years. A new, Chinese government-approved Panchen Lama was selected and enthroned. When the Dalai Lama dies, it is the role of the Panchen Lama to recognize the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. So, by controlling the Panchen Lama the Chinese government can legitimately control the selection of the Dalai Lama and all subsequent Panchen and Dalai Lamas. Of course, the legitimacy is questionable as no Tibetan or practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism recognizes the Chinese Panchen Lama.

For many years there has been speculation about what the Dalai Lama will do as he grows older and closer to death. The Dalai Lama has achieved the position of Tulku, a lama who is able to choose the manner of their reincarnation. With this in mind, there are four options open to him:

1) He could decide that he will not reincarnate again until Tibet is no longer under occupation. But this would go against his desire as a bodhisattva (an enlightened being who goes through the cycles of rebirth to help others achieve enlightenment).

2) He could publicly state where he will be reincarnated – ie. not in Tibet – thereby de-legitimizing any Dalai Lama claim from the Chinese government about a Dalai Lama from Tibet. He has taken this step already.

3) He could recognize his own reincarnation before he dies. This is a complicated and tenuous method that, whilst legitimate and not without precedent, would create problems for the Tibetan government in the eyes of those who do not believe in reincarnation.

4) He could give up his political power before he dies so that a legitimate governing mandate for Tibet will never be controlled by the Chinese government. This is the option he has chosen.

The future of Tibet will depend on the negotiations between members of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE) and the Chinese government. This is where change will come from. Pressure from campaigners and activists, like Students for a Free Tibet, creates a space for these negotiations to happen whilst affecting change on a day-to-day basis in Tibet. The risk with this transition is that the Chinese government will refuse to recognize the authority of the TGIE and will claim that political power still resides with the Dalai Lama.

This whole pantomime – a government that believes religion is the opiate of the people trying to wield religious power – is evidence of the power of the Tibetan independence movement. Without people watching and campaigning for Tibet, the Chinese government would never acknowledge the authority of the current Dalai Lama, let alone the TGIE. Our task now is to force them to acknowledge the authority of the TGIE and to keep the negotiations open. And we do that through political campaigning, through education and through nonviolent civil disobedience.

Privatizing profit and socializing risk

This is essentially the modus operandi of the modern Western government: to promote the interests of corporate globalization and to offload the risks onto the people. This has manifested itself in many ways over the last few decades, but interestingly many have been demonstrated in only the last few years and even days.

As the Libyan uprising continues the news has come through that BP oil workers operating in the Libyan desert have been repatriated, by the SAS no less. This is a complex problem; as British citizens they have a right to be defended by their government, though this is not really the question. The question is: should BP expect national governments to repatriate their workers at tax-payers’ expense? Oil and conflict go hand in hand; there are very few oil-rich areas that are not conflict zones in one way or another. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect that companies operating in these areas have carried out assessments of the risk to their workers and created contingency and evacuation plans should the situation get dangerous for those workers to remain. That it has taken so long to get the workers out and that the operation was conducted by the SAS and Royal Navy suggests that BP had no such plans in place, or that if they did, their plan was to let national governments deal with it and let the citizens pay for it.

A similar situation happened in the Gulf of Mexico last year with the Deepwater Horizon disaster. BP’s disaster response plan was not sufficient to cope with the scale of the disaster and therefore the burden of responsibility was shifted to US tax-payers. Now, BP did have to cough up a significant chunk of money to deal with the mess, and the eventual legal fees and result of the estimated 20-year litigation process to determine culpability will cost them greatly. Though it should be noted that rarely, if ever, are oil companies fined an amount that represents anything near the cost of the damage done. However there has been, and will still be, a significant burden on the tax-payer to deal with the ongoing repercussions of the disaster.

The financial crisis in the minority world is the epitome of the privatization of profit and socialization of risk. National governments across the rich minority world bailed out their failing banks to the tune of trillions of pounds. This was done, ostensibly because not doing it would have had more significant and disastrous repercussions for the citizens of those nations, the concept of ‘Too Big To Fail’. What happened in Britain was that HM Treasury set up a company, limited by shares, called UK Financial Investments that then bought up the now public stakes in banks such as RBS and Lloyds. This has allowed the banks to continue operating business-as-usual and turning over huge profits at little risk to their own livelihoods. That the unemployed, lowest-paid and most vulnerable in the UK are facing cuts to their public services whilst bankers are reaping the rewards of their risky investments is a case in point.

David Cameron has been in the Middle East as a trade envoy for the British arms industry. The insensitivity this shows – at a time when tyrannical dictators are crushing democracy with British arms – is incredible, but this is not the key point. Is it the responsibility of the Prime Minister to be touring the Middle East trying to sell things? Is there nothing more important for him to be doing than being a travelling salesman? Corporate globalization has engulfed national government and offloaded the risk so that the government has seemingly no alternative but to act like an advertisement for big business. Government has been reduced to the middle man, linking seller with buyer, desperately kowtowing to the megarich and the despotic (funny how often those go together) in the interests of the economy. The economy is a means to an end, not an end itself.

The role of a national government is to serve the people of the nation, not the interests of corporate globalisation. After all, as former New Internationalist editor David Ransom points out, the only time corporate globalization is interested in nations is when they need their money.

Policing the police

The police know that if the media is against them, they will have to be seen to act if not to actually change. But despite brief media outrage and public calls for reform, the police maintain very little accountability and act with impunity in most situations, particularly with regard to protests. And they are using the media more and more to justify their tactics.

Police need to be able to do their jobs and they need to be able to make decisions on the spot to resolve situations peacefully. They must, however, use their powers lawfully and appropriately, take responsibility for their decisions and be held publicly accountable for their actions. We have seen what happens when they the police are allowed to act with impunity: people die.

Photo by <A href="">Andrew</a> under a <a href="">CC Licence</a>

The police media tactics have been under some scrutiny in recent years, fired up by ‘conspiracy theories’ about undercover officers, deliberately un-boarded windows, false press statements and strategically positioned police vans. Thing is, all these ‘conspiracy theories’ frequently turn out to be true.

It was recently revealed that it was an undercover officer who snitched on the Nottingham 114. He had been living as an undercover officer for 9 years and had built up considerable trust in many of the people he met and became friends with. This sort of operation demonstrates the police’s assumption that protesters are criminals and that dissent must be crushed.

During the G20 protests in London there were two particular incidents that are relevant. The first was the kettling of protesters outside the Bank of England. Whilst this is a tactic of questionable legality, it was the positioning of this that I want to mention. Knowing that there was considerable anger towards the Royal Bank of Scotland, the police made little, if any, attempt to move protesters away from the un-boarded windows of a nearby branch. Sure enough, those windows were smashed. For the day of the protest this was the predominant media image and provided the police with a perfect excuse for their heavy-handed tactics.

Over at the Climate Camp in the City the police kettled several hundred protesters outside the European Climate Exchange. They knew that this was the intended location of the protest well beforehand yet when the swoop happened there were two police vans parked right outside. I have been to many protests and their usual tactic is to hide the vans full of officers round the corner from the protest, well out of sight. For them to be left unattended at the exact location of a protest is unusual to say the least, though these vans were not damaged. This was exactly what we saw at the recent anti-fees protest in London. A police van was left unattended in the middle of the kettle and sure-enough became the target of much of the protesters’ anger. And who can blame them when they are intimidated, beaten, kettled and charged down by mounted police, simply for exercising their right to protest. It is worth noting that there were a number of black-clad masked protesters egging people on to smash the van, whilst a large group of school kids tried to stop them. Is has been alleged that these were undercover police ‘agitators’.

Statements made by the police to the media about protest events have been consistently proved to be false. During the G20 protests newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson died after being struck by a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group. The initial response of the police was to blame the protesters. They claimed that their attempts to help Tomlinson were hindered by protesters throwing ‘missiles’. A video released later disproved this and showed the police initially made no attempt to help Tomlinson back to his feet. The ‘missiles’ turned out to be a single plastic bottle which was thrown from way back to which the protesters responded by turning and shouting not to throw things.

During the Camp for Climate Action in Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders Police made allegations that ‘protesters’ had poured an ‘oil-like substance’ on a main road near the camp. This was widely reported in the media and was roundly condemned. There was, however, no evidence to suggest this had actually taken place. There were no arrests, no witnesses, there were no reports of traffic disruption to the council and no protesters claimed they had committed it, something almost unheard of within the Climate Camp movement. At the very least, if it did happen there was nothing to suggest whoever did it was connected to the camp and so this was a grave distortion and a slander on the reputation of the Camp.

The police’s desire to control the media is evident. Recently I was attending the Crude Awakening protest at Coryton Oil Refinery. As I approached the road that the protest was on I was stopped by a police officer and questioned. The officer asserted (note, did not ask) that I was a journalist and informed me that “this is a police cordon, press are not allowed past”. When I questioned the officer he replied “I am not going to discuss this with you”. I eventually argued my way past the officer, with the help of a few friends, but there were many other journalists that did not want to argue with the police and were prevented from reporting on the protest.

Just the other day it was reported that the police are seeking powers to shut down websites engaged in ‘criminal activity’. As we have seen with so many other police powers this will be used to extra-judicially crush dissenting voices and intimidate protesters. The police do what they want and find a power to justify it later.

They are not, however, totally untouchable.

The police came under fire back in 2008 for their indiscriminate use of stop and search powers during the Kingsnorth Camp for Climate Action. They searched everyone entering and leaving the site, both protesters and journalists, and confiscated hundreds of items including tent pegs, toilet rolls and other innocuous items. They were using Section 44 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 which allowed them to stop and search anyone they had reasonable grounds to suspect might be a terrorist. This was recently ruled to be unlawful and a breach of Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (right to privacy).

This, however, has not deterred them. They simply moved on to another in their arsenal of stop and search powers, including Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act and most recently Section 50 of the Police Reform Act. This last piece of legislation is their current favourite as it has one major difference to the others; unlike s.1 PACE and s.60 CJA, if you refuse to give your details they have the power to arrest you.

Photo by <a href="">Selena Sheridan</a> under a <a href="">CC Licence</a>

I have come up against this particular law twice in the last few weeks. Once when I was at a protest at the Lib Dem constituency office in Oxford where I was approached by a FIT (Forward Intelligence Team) officer and told ‘intelligence has identified you as being part of an anti-social event on a previous day’ and asked for my details. I argued and the officer eventually let it go. Then again on Saturday when I was filming a protest at a Barclays in Oxford. Afterwards I was grabbed by two police officers, marched to a third officer and told that filming the protest was ‘anti-social behavior’ and they would therefore be taking my details, if I refused I was told I would be arrested. There have been many other instances of people being stopped under s.50 at the recent student fees protests. This is exactly the same situation as with s.44 & s.43 of the AT Act, the police using a law brought in for a ‘justifiable’ reason to collect intelligence on and intimidate protesters.

The police are succeeding in criminalizing protest, silencing dissent and stopping freedom of the press. The IPCC are not enough to control the police. As with the banks, self-regulation when rule-breaking is the norm simply does not work. There needs to be proper public accountability.

Photo credits: top - Andrew under a CC Licence; bottom - Selena Sheridan under a CC Licence


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