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Wednesday, December 14, 2005 

The death of free speech.

By now you've probably heard of the case of Maya Evans, who was arrested and convicted under the "Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005" for committing the heinous crime of daring to read out the names of dead Iraqis outside Downing Street. She was caught under a piece of reprehensible legislation that was mainly meant to remove Brian Haw from Parliament Square (He remains, as a judge found that the law had been poorly drafted and as Mr Haw's protest began before the act was passed, it did not apply to him.). The legislation requires planned protests to be cleared by the police before they go ahead, a piece of nonsense purely concocted by MPs who were annoyed by the protests by schoolchildren before the Iraq war began, and also the protests by the Countryside Alliance, when they clashed with police.

You know that the threat to freedom of expression in this country is serious when you get Tony Blair's best mate and chief apologist in parliament, Charlie Falconer coming on to Radio 4 to say the following:

The lord chancellor branded as "ridiculous" yesterday claims that the prosecution of a peace campaigner for reading out the names of British soldiers who have died in Iraq showed that free speech was threatened.

Maya Evans was last week given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay ��100 costs after being prosecuted under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which limits protest around Westminster, for reading the names by the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said the law "was a simple measure to avoid disorder around parliament".

I like how he seems to refer to legitimate protest as "disorder". Obviously reading out the names of Iraqis who have died as a result of our actions slows down the traffic and might aggravate the tourists that come to our glorious capital city. Even Tony's chief unelected crony didn't go so far though as Maya Evans own MP, who wrote to the Independent:

Sir: I am really sorry that my constituent Maya Evans was convicted under Section 122 of the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (report, 8 December).

On the face of it, it looked to be an overreaction on the part of the prosecutors but be that as it may, it would be wrong to say that the legislation is unnecessary. Its purpose is not to deny protest but to ensure that such protest is possible.

Historically all sorts of protests have taken place around Parliament, but with the current terrorist threat it would be easy to mask a terrorist atrocity under the guise of a legitimate demonstration. The easy solution would have been to simply ban such protest - as the media indeed claim is the purpose of the Act - but that was not the Government's intention.

Ms Evans's prosecution is unfortunate and appears to have been somewhat zealous, but to suggest it is an attack on free speech is bizarre. Such a right must be, and indeed is, protected by this legislation.


So though the prosecution was unfortunate, an overreaction and zealous, nowhere does he mention that it was wrong. It also isn't an attack on free speech, because if you wish to express your right to protest you have to inform the local plod first. But wait, what's this? Oh yes, the dear Michael Foster of course has to bring in a reference to terrorism. Apparently a terrorist atrocity could be masked beneath the veneer of a peaceful protest, although he doesn't quite explain how. Perhaps the protestors could deliver a biological attack by coughing on MPs as they try to enter the House.

I'll leave the best to last though. Guess who said this in 2002:

I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom."

Yes, it was the Dear Leader himself. We have now lost that freedom. If you don't want to be arrested, tried and convicted, you'd better make sure that you don't do something that could be considered a protest within a mile of Parliament. Thanks Tony, thanks Charlie and thanks Michael. You guys sure are saving this country from the mongrel hoards who wish to impose totalitarianism.

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