Image © Josh Jones.
6th Mar, 2009: A new law has been passed which allows UK police to arrest individuals for photographing police officers, and confiscate their equipment. Section 76, introduced this year, makes it illegal for anyone to take or distribute photographs of Police or armed forces ‘which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.
This comes as alarming news in the context of the UK police force’s abuse of anti-terror laws every year since 2001. In Brighton, Sussex police enacted a widespread suppression of a peaceful protest, using anti-terrorism laws to make arrests.
The laws also allow police to further suppress democratic journalism. Last year, Somerset & Avon police had to apologise for the the violent arrest of a plumber who photographed a police van going the wrong way up a one way street. Now, such an apology would not be necessary, and the onus would be on the plumber to prove that he was not going to use the image for terrorist purposes.
Weeks of intensive research have culminated in the launch of an online, interactive multimedia map. It documents events surrounding the Smash EDO demonstration in Brighton on October 15th. Clicking on markers brings up raw evidence, such as photography, eyewitness reports, and video footage.
The map makes for harrowing reading. It shows how police invoked anti-terror laws against suspected protesters. It also describes how one disabled observer was arrested and denied access to a doctor, and how peaceful protesters were attacked by police dogs.
While assembling the interactive online map of the Smash EDO demonstration, I came upon several harrowing stories. This was by far the most distressing. The student writing the letter is still under bail terms.
I am happy to tell you about what happened to me on the 15th.
My experience of the protest was quite tame. Anti-war protesters marched towards town but were blocked by a barricade of vans and police in riot gear. A few scuffles between protesters trying to break through and the police. But nothing too serious. This is Brighton, after all. This is a nice town.
But the more I talked to people, the more scary it got. One friend of mine attacked by a police dog. Protestors trapped in a ‘kettle’ – a brickwall of police – for over 45 minutes, right in the North Laine where gentle Brighton folk like to go shopping. And at least a dozen arrests, most of them under Section 60AA – an anti-terror law passed in the wake of 9/11.
When police are using anti-terror laws to make arrests of peaceful protesters, something is going seriously wrong. I have spent the last two weeks compiling evidence of various forms – photographic, video, eyewitness reports, official documents – and will soon be releasing it as an interactive, online article. Hopefully it will shed some light on what really happened in Brighton on October 15th. My greatest wish is that by raising awareness of the event, it need not happen again the way it did.