Melon Farmers Original Version

Protests at Parliament Square

Banning protests outside UK Parliament

20th June

Obituary: Brian Haw...

Of Parliament Square

Brian Haw, who died of cancer on June 18 aged 62, became famous when he set up home in atent in Parliament Square in a quixotic peace vigil and, despite heavy-handed efforts by the authorities to silence him, he remained there until last March.

Initially Haw, a former carpenter who began his vigil in June 2001, was protesting about the economic sanctions imposed by the West on Iraq, which, he claimed, were responsible for the deaths of 200 Iraqi children per day. For months he sat on a chair, fasting and praying.

Initially Haw was regarded as something between harmless eccentric and damn nuisance, but as public opposition to the war in Iraq grew and as the authorities embarked on attempts to silence him, he acquired the status of a folk hero, symbol of protest and thorn in the side of an unpopular government. In 2006 he was voted the most inspiring political figure at the Channel 4 political awards.


1st July

Update: Haw Law...

Boris Johnson inflicts considerable damage on British freedom

The High Court has triggered sharp criticism from civil liberties campaigners by approving the eviction of peaceful demonstrators from Parliament Square. The ruling follows a legal challenge brought by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Green Party politician Jenny Jones, a member of the Greater London Assembly said that the eviction was at the cost of democracy .

The Christian activist Brian Haw has camped outside Parliament since 2001, when he began to campaign against the war in Afghanistan. Other peace activists have joined the camp since then, with the numbers rising this year. The site has become known as Democracy Village .

The judge, Griffith Williams, ruled that the protesters must leave the Square by 4.00pm on Friday (3 July). The terms of his ruling mean that Brian Haw may continue to use a tent there, but only with the Mayor's permission. The judge warned Johnson that he is expected at least to consider Haw's request before enforcing his removal.

Johnson claims that the campaigners have caused considerable damage . But Jenny Jones insisted that, The lack of police presence showed that the protesters were not causing a problem .


11th April

Offsite: Victory for Protest...

Repeal of Parliament Square ban on protests

Mark Thomas led an inspired campaign against the UK government's restrictions on the right to protest. He says good riddance

…And so farewell then to the anti-protest laws, repealed with a musty splutter from Jack Straw in Parliament last week. These laws were hastily brought in an attempt to evict Brian Haw, the peace protestor in Parliament Square, from his vigil. At the time, David Blunkett (then Home Secretary) admitted: It might be a sledgehammer to crack a nut but he is a nut. Perhaps inevitably, a law introduced to clear one man from Parliament Square proved to be narrow-minded, ill conceived and in the end unworkable.

The law said that anyone who wanted to demonstrate in Parliament Square, and a designated zone around it, would have to get prior permission from the police, six days in advance. For larger demonstrations, organisers such as Stop the War were well used to talking to the police and the law did little to affect them.

Where the law really entered a Kafkaesque landscape of its own was in the smaller demos. One person with a small banner was deemed to be a demo and had to get permission. However, the police had an arbitrary power to define what was a demo. So a friend of mine was threatened with arrest for having cakes with slogans iced upon them - the word “Peace” in fact - at a picnic in the square. This was, the police insisted, an illegal demo.

The instances of bizarre bureaucracy kept piling up alongside the infringement of the right to demonstrate. So, on one hand, I had to get permission to stand holding a placard saying Support the Poppy Appeal - as this was a political demo. On the other hand, Maya Evans was famously arrested for reading out the names of the Iraqi and British war dead at the Cenotaph: she was charged under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act and found guilty of demonstrating without permission.

...Read the full article


20th December

Help Me Put Gordon Brown in Jail...

Mark Thomas campaigns

If MPs pass ridiculous laws to limit our freedom, they should be forced to abide by them too.

My lawyers have delivered a letter to the director of public prosecutions calling for an urgent investigation into allegations that the prime minister broke the law by demonstrating unlawfully in Parliament Square last summer. If found guilty he could face 50 weeks in prison.

This is partly Mr Brown's own fault. It began when MPs rushed the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 through, forcing anyone wishing to demonstrate within an area around parliament to get police approval. This is the law that Maya Evans was arrested and convicted under, for reading out the names of the British and Iraqi war dead.

In the past 18 months I have legally demonstrated in every corner of the area this law covers, from Hungerford Bridge (demanding more trolls) to the Mall (demanding human rights in Saudi Arabia). The definition of what constitutes a protest is such that I had to apply for permission to wear a red nose in Parliament Square on Red Nose Day. Not to do so would have risked arrest. Last month I had to get police approval to hold a banner saying, "Support the Poppy Appeal".

If the wearing of a brightly coloured proboscis constitutes a protest, then the unveiling of Nelson Mandela's statue must do so too. After all, it celebrated the collapse of apartheid (a political cause), honoured a man who organised the armed struggle in South Africa (definitely political and quite possibly glorifying terrorism) and pledged to fight poverty.

So, being civic-minded, I wrote to the police asking if I needed permission for a gathering at the statue. My event had speeches - in fact, they were extracts from the original speeches made on the day by Mr Brown and Mr Mandela. Yes, the police informed me, I did need permission to demonstrate - which I duly applied for and received. Unfortunately for the prime minister, it seems no one bothered to get police approval at the event he spoke at.

To support the action, you can buy an "I put Gordon Brown in the dock" badge for £2. Any money not used in the legal challenge will be donated to Index on Censorship


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