Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Megaphone trial continues as police disrupt court protest

Police disrupt peaceful Glasgow Defence Campaign
court protest, issuing threats to arrest,
Glasgow Sheriff Court, 4 March 2014
Day three of the trial against an anti ATOS campaigner violently arrested on a peaceful disability rights protest for using a megaphone last year will continue at Glasgow Sheriff Court on 19 March. Yesterday witnessed the second day of the trial in which the right to use a megaphone is facing criminalisation; outside the court protesters had another sharp lesson on the right to protest being undermined as police moved to disrupt the peaceful court picket. Background can be read here. While, for the time being, we cannot comment on the trial itself, we can however comment on the police operation outside of the court and what that means for the right to protest and the campaign against criminalisation.

In recent weeks, the Glasgow Defence Campaign have written to and contacted hundreds of individuals, organisations, trade unions, academics and political groups to make everyone aware of the attacks on democratic rights in general and in particular this specific attempt by the police to restrict the use of a megaphone. What is in issue is the legality or otherwise of the police to intervene in peaceful political protest and determine the effectiveness of the protest.

Prior to the commencement of the trial renowned prize winning writer James Kelman sent the campaign the following message of support;  

"People have a right to question. The police and legal system should do all in their power to support that right. Even when the subject under scrutiny is the authoritarian behaviour of the permanent state and its political apparatus. Instead of defending the people the police and legal system protect the tyrant and attack, condemn and criminalise those who offer resistance. It is beneath contempt. People in Scotland are watching the actions of the police and legal system here today. My best wishes to the Glasgow Defence Campaign. (James Kelman)

On 4 March outside the court as protesters from across Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Dundee gathered in solidarity police moved in and declared the assembly illegal and all those present liable to arrest unless we dispersed. The police stated that the area outside the court was ‘private property’ and that permission for any protest was required. When informed that the area was in fact public space and that no such authorisation is necessary for static protests; the officers changed tact. Individuals were threatened with arrest for breach of the peace, contravention of s.54 of the Civic Government Scotland Act 1982 (which demonstrates a lack of imagination as no sound amplifier was in use) and also for refusing to provide details of our identity when required to do so by a uniformed officer when under suspicion of committing an offence. A note of the incident can be viewed on the campaign harassment log.

This is routine bog standard police harassment. We have the right to protest as enshrined in the Human Rights Act; the moment you do so effectively you face criminal sanction for doing so and subject to a report from the police to the crown office. Inside the court private security firm Alliance gave campaign supporters special treatment – despite campaign material being deposited elsewhere to prevent cause for further harassment, Alliance brutes searched supporters for ‘leaflets’ and confiscated pieces of paper from supporters. When asked under whose command this direction was carried out, we were informed by one bully ‘I am my own boss and it’s up to me’.

We need to keep in mind why this trial is taking place. The trial to date has cost the crown in our estimation in excess of £7,000; the maximum penalty should a guilty verdict be returned is £50. This trial is a political trial; it is part of an overall campaign of state harassment being directed against members and supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! which is intended to disrupt and criminalise legitimate political work. To date the Glasgow Defence Campaign have fought 18 charges, won 15 of them, had one fine, one admonishment with one still pending.

On 22 February 2013 picket, two supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! were illegally arrested and detained for speaking on a megaphone in a protest against ATOS and in defence of disability rights. The police attack took place as the campaign grew; we correctly stated then that the police attack was a calculated divide and rule operation. One supporter was within days visited by undercover police officers – using a false name - at his family home, menacing phone calls followed where a deal to make things ‘go away’ were offered. These unlawful police manoeuvres will not be tolerated quietly and are currently the subject of civil action being pursued by the Glasgow Defence Campaign.

We need to urgently build momentum for day three of the trial and call upon supporters to gather in solidarity; we need to ask in whose interests is this trial being pursued? We call upon our supporters to speak to their families and friends about this case, write to newspapers and your elected representatives, break the silence on the attacks on democratic rights; join the Glasgow Defence Campaign.

We say that if Dominic O’Hara is a criminal for speaking on a megaphone then we are all guilty, for the right to speak out against injustice is a universal right which must be protected and fought for. The Glasgow Defence Campaign is prepared to fight. Everything or nothing; all of us or none.

Miriam Kelly, Glasgow Defence Campaign 17.30 5 March 2014

Picket the Sheriff Court on day there of the megaphone trial.

Wednesday 19 March at 10.15am, Glasgow Sheriff Court, Carlton Place. 

At 11 am the trial will continue and we expect will be concluded on that day before a judge sitting alone without a jury in court 19, which is open to the public. We call on all progressive people to attend in support, those in attendance will be able to hear a summary of the case in the final submissions of both the prosecution and the defence.