The issue of repressive legislation is becoming a regular feature in PN's editorial and comment section. However, we make no apology for banging on about it, when current and proposed measures have such a profound impact, not just on how protest is viewed and policed, but also on how the wider public - and we ourselves - perceive our identity, power and actions in opposition to the inherent violence of government and corporations.
October saw the government challenged repeatedly over terrorism legislation and policing by its own independent legal adviser, human rights groups and the mainstream media.
In mid October Lord Carlisle published his comments on the 2005 Terrorism Bill and, while noting that between 15 September and 5 October the government had effectively backtracked on a number of the most controversial aspects, still found much to criticise. Real concerns remain over several of the proposals, including the power to detain suspects for up to three months without charge - something which Carlisle identifies as open to challenge under the Human Rights Act.
Influencing government? Damn right!
Human Rights groups have been quick to condemn many of the measures outlined in the bill, with Amnesty International calling the “sweeping and vague provisions [...] dangerous and ill-conceived”.
But of special concern to PN readers may be the broad definition of “terrorism” as a prism through which all subsequent offences may be viewed. The 2005 Act uses the definitions of terrorism laid out in the 2000 Act - which includes serious damage to property and interfering with, or seriously disrupting, electronic systems if the “use or threat is designed to influence the government”. Separate powers in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 relate to “economic terrorism” with reference to private companies.
These definitions potentially cover forms of nonviolent direct action which use sabotage, for example ploughshares activism - which has “disarmament” at its core.
Information is power
Powers in the new Act also criminalise the publishing and dissemination of material designed to encourage terrorism. Hmmm.... well, if the definition used is as above, perhaps PN should prepare for a visit from the Met's anti-terror unit! After all, we are not about to stop publishing helpful guides to cutting fences, or opinions on the pros and cons of sabotage, or cheery articles about economic damage to the military-industrial complex - all of which hope to influence both government and the public.
As one anti-nuclear activist recently quipped: “In all this there appears to be no recognition of protest, NVDA, civil disobedience or acts of conscience. If I carry on as I am, I think I'm going to become a terrorist! See you all soon (in the exercise yard)”.
The government also got a ticking off when journalists put two and two together and remembered Carlile's annual report on the use of the Terrorism Act 2000 and in particular the use of Section 44 (published in May).
Since its introduction almost 60,000 people have been stopped and searched using Section 44, without any reason being required. The use of Section 44, Carlile said, “could be cut by at least 50 per cent without significant risk to the public or detriment to policing”.
A disproportionate number of PN readers and friends have fallen victim to the overzealous use of this section over the past three years - sometimes, genuinely, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time; often while involved in protest.
Unless the government takes heed of Carlile's suggestions on this and the 2005 Act, nonviolent activists and campaigners should start learning to love their new label.