Monday, April 14, 2014
Five of the antifascists arrested at last June's anti-BNP demo at the Cenotaph were acquitted by Westminster magistrates this morning. It's good news for them, but joy should not be unconfined.
Many arrests at protests are not intended to secure convictions, merely to stifle political dissent. After 286 antifascists were arrested at another demo three months later, I wrote about how the use of mass arrests is a way to control dissent.
By the same token, today's freshly acquitted protesters were given bail conditions that banned them from attending any further antifascist demonstrations. Breach of police bail can get you arrested again and brought before a court who may well decide to put a disobedient bail-breacher on remand in prison until your trial. As today's antifascists illustrate, that can easily be the best part of a year even for a relatively trivial offence. This makes bail conditions a very effective behavioural control tool irrespective of your alleged crime, let alone your actual guilt.
As David Cullen has documented, the recent anti-fracking protest at Barton Moss near Manchester got exactly this treatment. Protesters, myself included, were picked off on ludicrous pretexts. My favourite is the sober pedestrian who was arrested on suspicion of drink-driving.
We were all given bail conditions not to return to the camp. As soon as we could get the terms challenged in front of a magistrate they were, without exception, completely dropped. And yet the next lot of arrestees were given the same onerous conditions that, even as they typed them, the police knew would not stand up in the courts that the police are supposed to serve.
But by doing random arrests they discourage anyone from protesting who has a fear of risking a criminal record, and then the bail conditions take out the ones who don't mind being nicked. It's a concerted counter-democratic strategy to deprive the campaign of gathering momentum.
The range of groups targeted by Britain's political secret police shows that it's not the threat of violent disorder or even peaceful criminal activity that concerns the authorities. They spy on and disrupt any groups who are active outside the sliver of the political spectrum represented at Westminster. Open, public groups and actual political parties such as the Socialist Party, Green Party and Socialist Workers Party have been spied on.
Effectively, last June the police convicted those antifascists of acting outside permitted political norms and sentenced them to silence.