Protest isn’t harassment, says group suing UK government over law change

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 Original article by Anita Mureithi republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Protesters gather in Parliament Square, London, to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, 21 February 2024
 | Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Human rights group Liberty says spotlight on MPs’ safety has seen Tories ‘vilify’ Palestine marchers

Ahuman rights campaign group suing the government for forcing through anti-protest laws says people who go on Palestine marches are being “vilified” to “stoke division”.

Liberty is today challenging the home secretary, James Cleverly, in the High Court over a decision by his predecessor Suella Braverman to introduce new legislation targeting protesters that had already been rejected by Parliament.

The case comes in a week where protest rights are in the spotlight. Pro-Palestine marches are being labelled a threat to MPs and the Home Affairs Select Committee has called on the government to force organisers to give more notice.

Speaking to openDemocracy ahead of the hearing, Liberty director Akiko Hart said: “We’re seeing both our fundamental rights of protest being undermined, but also specific protests like the pro-Palestinian marches being vilified.”

Hart took aim at the “incredibly irresponsible rhetoric from senior politicians where protest is equated to intimidation and harassment”.

MPs’ safety fears were raised last week following chaos in the House of Commons over a symbolic vote on a ceasefire in Gaza. Though some MPs have reported an increase in abuse and threats, campaigners warn that peaceful protests are now being associated with terrorism in order to undermine them.

“There were legitimate concerns around MPs’ safety – obviously, two MPs have been murdered in the last ten years,” she said. “We need to take that very, very seriously. I would also say that it’s MPs who are racialised who are most at risk from harassment, and that’s what the evidence shows us.

“But to conflate harassment with protest, which is what’s happening this week, is really dangerous and irresponsible. There are laws in place to deal with harassment and abuse. That isn’t the same as legitimate protest.”

In its recommendations, the Home Affairs Select Committee said more notice was needed ahead of Palestine marches because the size and frequency of the protests is a burden on police resources. But according to the coalition organising the national Palestine marches, the measures would further limit the right to peaceful protest. Hart also said the current notice period of six days is enough for police to prepare for marches.

“Extending that will just restrict people’s ability to be able to make their voices heard. With this, as with any other issue, the point about protest is that it is not about whether or not you agree – it’s about our right to protest,” she explained.

Liberty was given the green light to sue Braverman in October after she used secondary legislation – which doesn’t get the same level of parliamentary scrutiny – to allow police to restrict or shut down any protest that could cause “more than minor disruption to the life of the community”.

“It shouldn’t be the case that you would have to take the home secretary to court with all the time and effort and energy and expertise that that involves,” said Hart. “The reason we are doing so is because of the then home secretary’s egregious act of circumventing Parliament.”

The government previously tried to insert the new powers into the Public Order Act 2023 in January last year, but was blocked by the Lords.

The point about protest is that it is not about whether or not you agree – it’s about our right to protest

Liberty believes a win “would be a powerful check against any future minister or government that intends to do the same thing”.

Hart told openDemocracy that there have already been clear examples of the impact of anti-protest laws that have come through the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts (‘Policing’) Act and the Public Order Act, which both give police more powers to restrict protests.

“There were anti-monarchy protesters who were arrested on the basis that the luggage straps that they were carrying were seen to be tools for locking-on, which was a new offence created under the Public Order Act, but they were carrying them to secure their placards.

“We’re also seeing it in sentencing. Last summer, the Court of Appeal upheld the sentences of the two protesters who scaled the Dartford crossing. And those sentences were two years and seven months, and three years – the harshest sentences ever handed down in modern times around protests around civil disobedience,” she said.

The trial against the home secretary is expected to run for two days at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Hart told openDemocracy that while she and Liberty’s team of lawyers are feeling optimistic, “there’s a level of underlying exhaustion at how this government is conducting itself and responding to the protests that are happening”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The right to peaceful protest is fundamental; the right to disrupt the hard-working public is not.

“We have taken action to give police the powers they need to tackle criminal tactics used by protesters such as locking on and slow marching, as well as interfering with key national infrastructure.

“We work closely with the police to make sure they have the tools they need to tackle disorder and minimise disruption.”

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 Original article by Anita Mureithi republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Continue ReadingProtest isn’t harassment, says group suing UK government over law change

COVID Cronyism and Mone – The Tip of the Iceberg: Byline Times’ Full Story of the PPE Cash Carousel 

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This story goes far wider than PPE Medpro and Baroness Michelle Mone Photo: Justin Tallis/PA/Alamy

Byline Times has been unravelling the dealings behind the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the UK since the very early days of the pandemic. Here’s what we learnt – and what we still need answers to…

Within weeks of the first lockdown, Nafeez Ahmed on Byline Times became arguably the first journalist to break the story of the emerging personal protective equipment (PPE) scandal. 

On April 2 2020, he exposed how lucrative contracts were being awarded to Conservative Party associates. 

Boris Johnson’s Government had appointed a giant haulage firm with financial ties to the Tory Party to be in charge of a new supply channel for PPE to the NHS. Its founding executive chairman was Steven N. Parkin, a top Conservative Party donor who has attended exclusive ‘Leaders Group’ meetings and donated almost £1 million to the party in the preceding five years. 

This set the tone for an extensive investigation into COVID-19 contracts, shedding light on a concerning trend of cronyism.

That May, Stephen Delahunty on Byline Times revealed that another Conservative donor was involved in the COVID-19 contracts.

Europa Worldwide Group – the managing director of which was a personal donor to Johnson – was found to be arranging PPE supplies for the NHS and manufacturing testing kits. 

In July 2020, Delahunty revealed that companies with no prior experience or expertise were inexplicably receiving multi-million-pound contracts. This was despite the looming threat of legal challenges over what was to be dubbed the ‘VIP Lane’: pathways for firms to win government contracts with little oversight and through referrals from well-connected politicians. 

In quick succession, we found that a recruitment firm with just £322 in net assets had received an £18 million Government contract.

Things got even weirder that August, when Byline Times revealed the companies linked to the exclusive Plymouth Brethren religious sect which were mopping up huge COVID contracts. And still the warning signs kept flashing, as we dug up dormant firms which emerged from seemingly nowhere to win millions in PPE deals. 

All these contracts could be justified if they were effective in saving lives. But in August 2020, we began to see the true picture: much of the PPE purchased at vast sums couldn’t actually be used. It wasn’t up to scratch. Meanwhile, NHS staff continued to complain of shortages and shoddy equipment.  

In 2021, the COVID cash machine just kept giving – to a select few. 

Pulling together a year of evidence, Byline Times and The Citizens revealed that deals worth at least £2 billion had been awarded to top Conservative Party associates during the Coronavirus crisis.

A firm that gave £400,000 to the Conservatives won a £93.8 million PPE deal. The figures being handed to the Plymouth Brethren sect alone hit £1.1 billion. 

And, as before, vast amounts of the PPE were useless. 

This newspaper was the first to reveal Mone’s links to the firm – links which were vigorously denied under threat of libel action, but which we now know to have been true. (Mone and PPE Medpro are under investigation by the National Crime Agency but deny any illegality).

It was one of many companies that were referred by Conservative MPs and peers to the expedited ‘VIP Lane’ for PPE contracts during the pandemic. 

PPE Medpro took in the region of £60 million in profits. Much of its PPE was also deemed unusable by the NHS.

Overall, the value lost to dodgy PPE was nearly £9 billion – a quarter of the annual UK budget for housing and the environment put together.

Is there any other country in the world that has witnessed sleaze and scandal on such a scale around COVID contracts?

And did the £200 million-plus COVID ‘bungs’ to the press – the Government’s ‘All in, All Together’ public information campaign subsidising profitable newspapers – help Johnson’s administration get away with it? 

COVID Cronyism and Mone – The Tip of the Iceberg: Byline Times’ Full Story of the PPE Cash Carousel 

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The tip of the iceberg

Continue ReadingCOVID Cronyism and Mone – The Tip of the Iceberg: Byline Times’ Full Story of the PPE Cash Carousel 

‘Time to Make Them Pay’: Internal Docs Further Expose Exxon Efforts to Spread Climate Lies

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Original article by Jake Johnson republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

“Climate change isn’t just a tragedy, it’s a crime,” said one climate campaigner in response to documents reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Previously unreported documents published on the front page of The Wall Street Journal Thursday show that ExxonMobil continued to work behind closed doors to cast doubt on climate science, even after the company publicly acknowledged the link between fossil fuel-driven greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in 2006.

The documents—which detail email exchanges between executives, board meeting conversations, and other company proceedings—reveal that during his tenure as CEO, Rex Tillerson joined other Exxon leaders in questioning “the severity of climate change’s impacts,” the Journal reported.

The company’s scientists, meanwhile, “supported research that questioned the findings of mainstream climate science” despite Exxon’s pledge to stop bankrolling think tanks and other groups peddling climate denial.

After scientists with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounded the alarm in 2011 about the potentially devastating global impacts of runaway warming, Tillerson told a leading Exxon researcher that the IPCC’s warning was “not credible” and complained about the media’s coverage of the potentially dire scenario, according to documents reviewed by the Journal.

“Tillerson wanted to engage with IPCC ‘to influence [the group], in addition to gathering info,'” the newspaper reported.

Tillerson also dismissed the Paris Climate Agreement’s 2°C warming target as “something magical” shortly before Exxon endorsed the accord.

“As communities pay an ever-greater price for our worsening climate crisis, it’s more clear than ever that Exxon must be held accountable to pay for the harm it has caused.”

Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, said in a statement that “this damning new evidence of Exxon’s climate lies shows that for decades it has been official company policy for executives to undermine climate science, minimize the dangers of their oil and gas business, and protect company profits at all costs—with no concern for the catastrophic impact their actions would have on humanity.”

Wiles argued that the documents reported by the Journal provide more evidence for the dozens of states, cities, and counties that are currently suing Exxon and other fossil fuel giants over their decades-long effort to deceive the public about climate change.

“As communities pay an ever-greater price for our worsening climate crisis,” said Wiles, “it’s more clear than ever that Exxon must be held accountable to pay for the harm it has caused.”

The new reporting could also heighten pressure on the Biden Justice Department to join the legal fight against Big Oil.

In late July, a group of progressive U.S. senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged the DOJ to sue fossil fuel giants for violating “federal racketeering laws, truth in advertising laws, consumer protection laws, and potentially other laws.”

It has long been public knowledge that Exxon, the largest oil and gas company in the United States, was aware of the climate impacts of its business model well before it admitted the link between fossil fuels and climate change.

A peer-reviewed study published earlier this year in the journal Science shows that Exxon’s own internal data between 1977 and 2003 contradicted the company’s public statements downplaying and questioning the veracity of climate science.

The Journal‘s reporting confirms that Exxon did not stop working to sow doubt about climate change after it conceded for the first time in 2006 that “the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere poses risks that may prove significant for society and ecosystems.”

“In 2008, Exxon announced it would stop funding think tanks and other groups that questioned climate science, saying their positions ‘could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner,'” the Journal noted.

But internal company documents show that “Exxon researchers continued to support scientific research that cast doubt on climate science and its impacts,” the newspaper reported.

The same year the company vowed to stop funding climate-denial organizations, Exxon’s manager of global regulatory affairs said that “Exxon should direct a scientist to help the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s influential lobbying group, write a paper about climate science uncertainty.”

Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media, called the Journal‘s reporting “another massive exposé of Exxon’s strategy to attack climate science and block action.”

“Climate change isn’t just a tragedy,” Henn added, “it’s a crime.”

Original article by Jake Johnson republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Continue Reading‘Time to Make Them Pay’: Internal Docs Further Expose Exxon Efforts to Spread Climate Lies

The public think everything has got worse under the Tories, a new poll has found

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Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil's You May Find Yourself... art auction. Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch appear.
Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil’s You May Find Yourself… art auction featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.

Rishi Sunak’s government gives of the strong odour of failure. From the cost of living crisis to collapsing school buildings and from high interest whacking mortgage holders to shocking NHS waiting lists, there’s a growing sense that Britain under the Tories just isn’t working.

The poll, reported first by Byline Times shows that the public think the Tories are failing on almost every major issue. It’s damning stuff. Here are the results:

  • 61% of voters say public services overall have got worse under the Tories
  • 67% say the NHS has got worse under the Tories
  • 54% say schools have got worse under the Tories
  • 49% think crime has increased under the Tories (with just 8% thinking it’s gone down)
  • 53% think the UK is doing worse than other similar countries economically

Continue ReadingThe public think everything has got worse under the Tories, a new poll has found

Priti Patel news

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UK Murdoch Home Secretary Priti Patel appears in recent news items.

Priti Patel’s new powers to remove citizenship would turn ethnic minority Brits into second-class citizens

Consider the following example, because it’s about to come true. Someone has been a British citizen for decades. They go on holiday. When they try to return, they’re told that the Home Secretary has stripped them of their citizenship. They are not told why. They are not told the charges against them. They have no functioning right of appeal. They have been made stateless, by ministerial fiat.

This would be the consequence of a new provision added to Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders bill, which goes through the Commons over the next couple of days.

Making someone stateless has long been seen as one of the most egregious actions a government can take. In the words of Hannah Arendt, the great scholar of totalitarianism, it deprives people of “the right to have rights”. It makes you an unperson: without protection, without home, without legal status.

Jailed for 51 weeks for protesting? Britain is becoming a police state by stealth George Monbiot

This is proper police state stuff. The last-minute amendments crowbarred by the government into the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill are a blatant attempt to stifle protest, of the kind you might expect in Russia or Egypt. Priti Patel, the home secretary, shoved 18 extra pages into the bill after it had passed through the Commons, and after the second reading in the House of Lords. It looks like a deliberate ploy to avoid effective parliamentary scrutiny. Yet in most of the media there’s a resounding silence.

Among the new amendments are measures that would ban protesters from attaching themselves to another person, to an object, or to land. Not only would they make locking on – a crucial tool of protest the world over – illegal, but they are so loosely drafted that they could apply to anyone holding on to anything, on pain of up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment.

It would also become a criminal offence to obstruct in any way major transport works from being carried out, again with a maximum sentence of 51 weeks. This looks like an attempt to end meaningful protest against road-building and airport expansion. Other amendments would greatly expand police stop and search powers. The police would be entitled to stop and search people or vehicles if they suspect they might be carrying any article that could be used in the newly prohibited protests, presumably including placards, flyers and banners. Other new powers would grant police the right to stop and search people without suspicion, if they believe that protest will occur “in that area”. Anyone who resists being searched could be imprisoned for – you guessed it – up to 51 weeks.

The truth behind Priti ‘pull the drawbridge up’ Patel

Recently, the Guardian broke the news that the reason we are seeing increasing numbers of asylum seekers on our beaches is because they have cottoned on to the fact that, thanks to Brexit, we are no longer part of the Dublin Agreement. This inconvenient truth seems to have escaped Farage and Johnson and all those who are hell bent on ruining the country’s economy at any cost if we can only get control of our borders.

Since 2016, the Tory party has rapidly morphed into the BNP-NF-Brexit Party-UKIP-Tory party but how far has it gone? 

Put it this way. Now it’s suppressing its own reports on the reasons people make the treacherous journey across the channel. Home Office data show two thirds of those attempting to make the crossing are genuine refugees, many coming from war-torn parts of the world. As one of the world’s largest exporters of arms, the UK has had a great deal to do with creating the hell that they are escaping.

But the Home Office is not publishing this data. Why? Because it doesn’t fit the narrative. These are inconvenient truths that the Tories don’t want people to hear. So best they just make out that the asylum seekers are illegal immigrants coming over here to scrounge benefits and get a nice hotel on the back of the taxpayer.

Continue ReadingPriti Patel news