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Freedom to protest?

Anyone for cricket? The St George's weekend SOCPA challenge

Every Sunday afternoon, campaigners stage an open picnic on Parliament Square to plan ideas to subvert or test the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (section 132). SOCPA requires advance written police permission for demonstrations around parliament, thus criminalising spontaneous protest.

Dozens of people have been arrested since this law's inception last August (see PNs), but its operational enforcement appears related to the size of the demonstration and media presence, with small demonstrations providing the easiest target for arrest.

In 1649...

During St George's weekend (22- 23 April), in an action packed with historical symbolism, a group of around a dozen activists camped at Runnymede and then cycled to London on Sunday morning with a copy of the Magna Carta, pausing for breakfast at the site of the Diggers commune at St George's Hill, Weybridge.
    They were met at the Tibetan Peace Gardens in Lambeth by another twenty campaigners, where Deepak Gupta, from the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, spoke to the crowd about how a swathe of recent laws work together to repress the human rights of many of the most vulnerable, and to intimidate legitimate protest in our streets.

Medieval cross-dressing

Watched by Forward Intelligence police teams, the motley troupe (many dressed in subverted medieval, cross-dressed, St George-themed clothing and body paint), then walked through the rain carrying blank banners and placards to Parliament Square.
    They were kept under surveillance and occasionally pushed around by the police, but managed to join the route of the London Marathon for their final symbolic entry to Parliament Square carrying a large white banner.
    Another dozen or more campaigners had already set up a refreshments stall at Parliament Square and were playing cricket under the watchful eye of several van-loads of police. By now, more than fifty people were involved in the activities in the Square, and bemused Marathon onlookers were asking questions and learning about SOCPA, as well as signing a petition against the prison sentence received by conscientious objector Malcolm Kendall-Smith.
    The cricketers were playing for the ashes of the Magna Carta, which “Tony Blair” set on fire under the gaze of media and celebrities such as the Observer's Henry Porter and comedian Alan Davies.

Safety in numbers

Despite the erection of a huge “Freedom To Protest” banner, and the clear flaunting of the law, the police withdrew and there were no arrests. The picnics will continue from 1.30pm throughout the summer, and all are very welcome - bring something to share.

In other SOCPA-related news...

On 1 April, Helen John and Sylvia Boyes were arrested for trespassing on a “designated site” after they walked onto Menwith Hill. The US spy base is now protected by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). They are the first to protest the law by entering a military base. l On 12 April, Milan Rai's SOCPA trial concluded at Bow Street Magistrates Court, with a conviction for organising an unauthorised demonstration in the vicinity of parliament. He has been fined
    On 13 April, new rules - brought in via the Terrorism Act 2006 - make AWEs Aldermaston and Burghfield, and Devonport Dockyard, “designated sites”.

Topics: Civil Liberties