Russia, Free Greenpeace Arctic 30

Russian Embassy, Kensington, London. Thu 31 Oct 2013

Protesters call in turn for each of the 30 taken prisoner on the high seas to be released
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Demonstrators supported the 30 arrested after an illegal raid on Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise on the high seas and now held in jail in Murmansk and charged with 'hooliganism' at a protest at the Russian Embassy. Those held include two journalists.

The protesters held up portraits of those arrested in the direction of the Russian Embassy across the road, and shouted for their release.

The two journalists on the ship were Kieron Bryan, a British videographer, and Denis Sinyakov, a Russian freelance photographer, and many feel that their continued detention is an attack on the freedom of the press. The other 28 held include activists and crew members of the Arctic Sunrise, which was stormed on the high seas after two of the activists climbed a Gazprom drilling rig in the Arctic Ocean.

Greenpeace and other environmentalists claim that drilling for oil in the Arctic is likely to lead to environmental catastrophe as the ecosystem is fragile, and dealing with oil spills extremely difficult.
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Protest Against Colombian 'Vulture of Death'

Senate House, University of London. Thu 31 Oct 2013
Protesters against former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, responsible for many thousand of murders
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Colombians and others protested at Senate House in the University of London against the presence of Álvaro Uribe Velez, the 'Vulture of Death', President of Colombia from 2002-10, responsible for thousands of dissapearances and 14,000 extrajudicial executions.

The protest was organised by the Plataforma 12 de Octobre, and supported by numerous groups including Movimiento Micaela Bastidas-UK, Marcha Patriótica-Británica, Polo Democrático-UK, Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Mesa Permanente por la Paz - Londres, MERU Verdadero, London México Group, Tawantinsuyu Nation, Enlace Mapuche Internacional, Hands Off Venezuela, PARCOE, and the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB). By the time I left, twenty minutes before Álvaro Uribe was due to speak there were over 50 people present, and more were still arriving.

Álvaro Uribe had been invited to speak at an event organised by Canning House, "a foundation dedicated to promote understanding and engagement between Britain and the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian world" and the Institute of Latin American Studies, a part of the University of London at Senate House on the subject of peace in Colombia.

The protesters call for him to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court for his many crimes against humanity. They say he is a well known “narco-paramilitar” (paramilitary drug gang leader) and responsible for a 'dirty war' against the people of Colombia, in which thousands have disappeared, and there have been 14,000 extrajudicial executions, including more than 3,000 people killed as “false positives”, and that his polices led to more than 5 million internally displaced people.

The protesters decided to hold their protest in the covered area under Senate House in front of the main entrance. The police were called and two officers came and talked briefly to the protesters before entering the building to talk to the security inside. After a few minutes they left to sit in their van in the car park and appeared unlikely to take further action.

The protesters, including many Colombians and some other Latin American as well as British supporters made clear their disgust at the invitation to speak to a man responsible for so many deaths and other human rights abuse in Colombia. They chanted slogans against Álvaro Uribe and called for him to be brought before the International Court of Justice, and made a considerable noise, but it seemed unlikely that the former president would arrive by this entrance, and I left a short while before he was due to speak. As I left the police van was also driving away.

Later I heard that a few protesters had managed to get inside the Senate House and protest in the lecture theatre wher Uribe was speaking before being ejected.
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Cleaners Invade John Lewis Oxford Street

Oxford St, London. Sat 26 Oct 2013

The Cleaners started their protest on the top floor and continued down to the basement before leaving
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The IWGB union protested inside John Lewis's flagship store in Oxford St demanding that the workers that clean John Lewis stores be paid a living wage and share in the benefits and profits enjoyed by other workers in the stores.

The cleaners who work at John Lewis Partnership (JLP) stores are not employed by them but by sub-contractor ICM of the Compass Group, who recently announced pre-tax profits for the year of £575 million. They pay the cleaners £6.87 per hour, only four fifths of the London Living Wage of £8.55 an hour set by the GLA and backed by the London Mayor - and which David Cameron described as "an idea whose time has come."

By out-sourcing its cleaners, John Lewis distances itself from the low pay and poor conditions of service of these workers who share the workplace with the directly employed JLP workers who are called 'partners'. As well as higher pay and better benefits than the cleaners, partners also get a share in the company's profits - which can be more than an extra two months pay. By hiving off the cleaners to another company, JLP can still claim it is a ‘different sort of company’ with a strong ethical basis, but leave its cleaners - a vital part of its workforce - on poverty wages.

The cleaners belong to the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) who have asked JLP to insist that the outsourced workers in their stores are paid the Living Wage - as 400 other employers do. JLP told them that they did not think it "appropriate" and refused to do so.

The cleaners point to both the £50m profits by JLP from its department stores as well as the huge profits of ICM. Christmas is coming and the store makes huge sales in the Christmas season. They say that the JLP "should put people before its profits and ensure the cleaners get Justice for Christmas. Stop being scrooge and pay the Living Wage."

Many of John Lewis's 'partners' who work alongside the cleaners question the company's policy towards them, but they are afraid to speak out. Last year Raph Ashley was one of the John Lewis 'partners' working in Stratford who supported the clearners and urged others at the company to join the IWGB. He was targeted and sacked after he gave an interview to the Guardian. He had raised concerns about the ethnic diversity at John Lewis, and was accused by management of being racist for doing so. He had also exposed the fabrication of temperature records for a fridge storing food. The management told him to stop asking staff to join a union and said that 'Partners' discussing pay and that this was a disciplinary offence. Raph was present at today's protest, which as well as demanding and end to poverty pay for cleaners also demanded justice for Raph.

The cleaners and supporters, including members of the RMT and PCS trade unions as well as the IWGB, met in the cafe at the top of the large store, where they got out their banners, flags, flyers, drums, horns, whistles and a megaphone before walking out onto the fifth floor and beginning a very noisy progress around it. They then made their way down the escalator to the next floor, using the megaphone and flyers to let customers and staff know what was happening and why.

Many customers took the leaflets and expressed their support - and some clapped. As they made their way around the store the protesters took great care to avoid any damage, not always easy with some large banners, but this, although noisy and very visible, was a controlled and peaceful protest. John Lewis staff, including security generally behaved very well too, and when one man started to argue noisily with the protesters and seemed to be threatening them, he was quickly pulled away.

I'm not sure the protesters had intended to go all the way down to the basement, but finding themselves there, they made a little tour around that before going back up to the ground floor and holding a short rally just inside the main entrance, with speeches from RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley, IWGB Secretary Chris Ford, and Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary of PCS. By now, around 20 minutes after the protest had begun, the police had arrived, and the JLP management were told to ask the protesters to leave the store, and they did so, continuing their protest on the crowded street outside for another half hour.
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Gurkhas Hunger Strike for Justice

Downing St, London. Sat 26 Oct 2013
Gurkhas are curently taking part in a serial hunger strike, but will fast to death if they don't get justice
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The Gurkhas have still not had any positive response to their petition for justice (see Gurkha Veterans Demand Justice and have begun their serial hunger strike. If there is still no progress they will start a fast to the death on November 7.

United Families & Friends Remember the Killed

Whitehall, London. Sat 26 Oct 2013

'No Justice No Peace' as the march to remember those who died at the hands of police goes down Whitehall
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The United Families and Friends Campaign remembered all those who have died in the custody of police or prison officers, in immigration detention or psychiatric hospitals in an annual procession down Whitehall to Downing St.

The campaign describes itself:

The United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) is a coalition of families and friends of those that have died in the custody of police and prison officers as well as those who are killed in immigration detention and secure psychiatric hospitals. It includes the families of Roger Sylvester, Leon Patterson, Rocky Bennett, Alton Manning, Christopher Alder, Brian Douglas, Joy Gardner, Aseta Simms, Ricky Bishop, Paul Jemmott, Harry Stanley, Glenn Howard, Mikey Powell, Jason McPherson, Lloyd Butler, Azelle Rodney, Sean Rigg, Habib Ullah, Olaseni Lewis, David Emmanuel (aka Smiley Culture), Kingsley Burrell, Demetre Fraser, Mark Duggan and Anthony Grainger to name but a few. Together we have built a network for collective action to end deaths in custody.

Representatives of many of these families, and some others were on today's march along with their supporters. As in previous years it gathered on the edge of Trafalgar Square before making its way down Whitehall at a funereal pace behind the main banner. Among those holding this were Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennet, twin sister of Leon Patterson, murdered by Manchester police in 1992 and Carole Duggan, the aunt of Mark Duggan whose shooting by police sparked riots in August 2011.

The march halted opposite Downing St for a rally where many family members spoke in turn in a shameful exposition of injustice perpetrated by police, prison officers and mental health workers. Among those at the march for the first time was the sister of Thomas Orchard, killed by police in Exeter in 2012 when wrongly restrained.
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3 Cosas Defy London University Protest Ban

Senate House, University of London. Thu 24 Oct 2013

Students carry the banner through the police line to leave Senate House after protest
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Supporters of the '3 Cosas' campaign for sickpay, holidays and pensions for all workers at the University of London today defied University management ban of protests by holding a noisy protest in and around Senate House.

The protesters, mainly students and staff at the univeristy, including cleaners, see the ban as an attempt to prevent free speech and freedom of assembly at the university and the threat to bring in the police to prevent further protests as one which recalls the actions of authoritarian regimes overseas, rightly condemned across academia and the rest of society. The university threatened to bring charges of trespass against any protesters.

The ban has served to harden the resolve of individuals and organisations fighting for justice for the out-sourced workers. Today's protest was called by the 3 Cosas campaign (Spanish for '3 things), University of London Union (ULU) and IWGB (Independent Workers of Great Britain) which represents many of the cleaners in the university, and was supported by others including members of Unison and the UCU.

The ban followed several highly visible protests at Senate House last academic year, in the final one of which a philosophy student was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage for writing a chalk slogan outside the university library. Police who came to arrest her later were accused of using unnecessary force.

When protesters arrived at Senate House today they found most gates and doors locked and passageways blocked, ad there were security staff on the two remaining narrow gates that were open, checking ID and refusing entry to most. The protest began with a noisy session outside the locked gates to the East car park, with several large banners. They were joined by one man protesting inside the gates; security men came and argued with him, asking him to leave, but left him alone when he refused to budge.

The protesters then took their banners, flags and placards and marched around to the south Entrance to Senate House, opposite the rather grander North Entrance to the British Museum, attracting a great deal of interest from the many tourists waiting to enter.

By the time the march got to the locked West Gates, we could see a small group of protesters in the lobby under the Senate House who were being ejected by security. A few protesters climbed over the fence to join them, but the rest simply pushed away an unguarded barrier or marched across a lawn from the street to the north, and there was soon a lively protest at the base of Senate House, where the gates to the lobby were now locked, with security guards standing in front of them (the security guards are also outsourced and are one of the main of workers who will benefit from the success of the 3 Cosas campaign.)

The protesters then withdrew to the area outside SOAS just to the north of Senate House, and I thought the protest was probably over, but a group with the IWGB banner had other ideas, rushing down the narrow path into the Senate House East car park, and the rest of us followed.

At Senate House the protest was met by two police offices and management representatives, who tole them they were not allowed to protest. The only result of this was to add the slogan 'Cops Off Campus!' to that of 'Sick Pay, Holidays, Pensions, Now!' and the protest continued.

Soon the arrival of another small group of police inflamed the protesters more, and the shouts of 'Cops Off Campus!' became deafening. The protesters also complained about the man filming the event from a first floor window. ULU Vice President Daniel Cooper used a megaphone to question his activity, and that of the univeristy authorities, and a short time later began what seemed to be a closing speech for the event, where he talked about the campaign and the shame that the University was bringing on itself by its refusal to insist on decent conditions of employment for all workers in the university, for attempting a ban on freedom of speech and assembly in the university and for bringing police onto the campus against staff and students of the university.

His speech was interrupted by the arrival of a larger group of police who ineffectually tried to kettle the protest. There were far to few to do so, and most protesters simply walked through the gaps in their line.

The police then regrouped in a slightly narrower area to attempt to stop the protesters who were by now trying to leave the area, but common sense soon began to dawn, and some officers realised it was counter-productive to try and stop the protesters leaving. While a few officers were still attempting with little success to stop the protesters, others were shouting at them to let them go. The protesters walked away and held a short rally outside SOAS celebrating their success before dispersing.
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Southall Black Sisters Protest Racist UKBA

Eaton House, Hounslow, London. Thu 24 Oct 2013

Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters speaking in front of the Hounslow Reporting Centre
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In August, Southall Black Sisters sent a clear message to the UK Borders Agency that they were not prepared to tolerate their racist behaviour in carrying out immigration raids on shops and stations, the racist ‘go home vans’ and other manifestations of the government's racist stance on immigration and its use of the right-wing press to stoke a racist backlash. They state: "Using immigration laws, the government is seeking to target the most vulnerable in our society and to legitimise racism in British politics. It would seem that they are using the anti-immigration and race card for electioneering purposes."

The Labour Party too at times seems to have been competing with the Tories in a contest of words over who can be 'tougher' on immigration, helping to raise public feelings on the issue. The backlash - and the racial profiling of the UKBA in their spot checks at rail and underground stations in areas such as Southall, Slough, Brent and East London cause great anxiety in our minority communities, many of whom are British citizens born in this country.

The Refugee & Migrant Forum East London (RAMFEL) launched a successful legal challenge to the Home Office over their use of advertising vans (and the the Advertising Standards Authority has also criticised some aspects o fthe campaign.) In response, say Southall Black Sisters, "the UKBA has shifted the ’Go Home’ message to reporting centres in Glasgow, Croydon and Hounslow."

Sotuhall Black Sisters thus determined to hold a protest this morning at the Hounslow Reporting Centre at Eaton House on the Staines Road at the western edge of Hounslow, inviting others to join with them "in demonstrating against the Government’s anti-immigration campaigns."

They continue: " We will not tolerate underhand tactics used to instil fear and divide us. Let us return to the streets and make our voices heard. We need to fight for our rights."

Around 30 people had found their way to this rather out of the way spot opposite Hounslow Heath when I was photographing this morning. Most were from Southall Black Sisters and wore t-shrts with the message 'Do I look illegal?', but they were joined by others from Sol-Fed and other groups. As well as the familiar bright red 'Southall Black Sisters' banner, there was also a larger one with the message 'F**K ALL RACISM - NO ONE IS ILLEGAL'

Since during Labour were in office, governments have fed the newspapers and broadcasters with propaganda about so-called 'illegal immigrants', a deliberately slanted description of people who do not have a legal right to live in this country. They are not 'illegal' but simply do not have permission to be here. In France, such people are said to be 'without papers', but none of us in the UK needs papers to live here, so an appropriate but less biased term might be 'without status'.

The protesters blew plastic horns and whistles and generally made a lot of noise, as well as shouting a number of chants including 'Teresa May, drop the pretence, Go home vans cause offence', 'We are humans not illegal, We want justice for our people' and 'Money for jobs and education, Not for racist deportation.'

A police officer came and talked to the protesters as they began their protest, enquiring what they intended to do. A few officers stood around and watched, occasionally asking that people keep a clear pathway along the very wide pavement. There were a few people coming to report at the Immigration Centre, quite a few of whom took an interest in the protest, and a few joined in after they emerged, and there was a small stream getting on and off buses at the bus stop outside Eaton House.

There was a minor incident when one officer complained of the language used by one of the women, who complained strongly that she had been responding to a racist remark by a passer-by, and asked why the officer had not responed to that. He replied that he had not heard the remark, but had heard her reply. He was surrounded by a group of women blowing whistles and horns and banging drums for a couple of minutes before being rescued by Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, who told the group they should get on with their demonstration.

The protest was continuing when I had to leave after around an hour.
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Climate Deniers told 'Frack Off'

Regents Park Holiday Inn, London. Wed 23 Oct 2013

Protesters in gas masks stand in the driveway into Holiday Inn with the message 'Frack Off!'
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Activists protested outside the 'Shale Gas Environmental Summit' where industry figures concerned to deny the environmental impact of fracking were hearing from noted climate change denier Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

The protesters from Frack Off London came with a giant banner that they hung between two roadside trees outside the Regents Park Holiday Inn where the conference was taking place. They label the 'summit' as industry "greenwash" designed to try to fool the public that fracking is safe and to minimise any fears about the pollution of watercourses and other problems around unconventional gas extraction.

They chalked slogans across the roadway at the vehicle entrance to the hotel, with 'No Drill, No Spill', 'No Fracking' and a message to Benny Peiser , 'GWPF Frack off - climate change deniers'. The large 'KEEP CLEAR' on the road in front of the entrance had 'of FRACKING!!' added below it in large letters.

Two of the protesters then posed wearing gas masks to symbolise the pollution that fracking has caused at many sites where it is in operation, with some of the poisonous materials that are pumped into the wells to shatter the shale escaping into groundwater. Fracking also often releases methane into the air, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

As I left the protesters, some of whom were still arriving, were getting ready for some noisy chanting opposite the hotel.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation was founded in 2009 to oppose ideas of climate change and policies to mitigate this, and its director is social anthropologist Benny Peiser, with former chancellor Nigel Lawson as chair. It has refused several freedom of information requests to disclose where its funding comes from. According to its 2011 accounts, voluntary donations from around 80 individual members came to around £8,000, with the rest of its over £500,000 budget coming from secret donors. It runs extensive (and expensive) campaigns lobbying MPs and newspaper editors. Peiser has been quoted as saying that climate change will actually be a benefit for humanity and has consistently denied that is it occuring.

According to Wikipedia, the Charity Commission is currently considering the GWPF's charitable status following a formal complaint by the policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics that it had "persistently disseminated inaccurate and misleading information about climate change as part of its campaign against climate policies in the UK and overseas."

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that we must leave shale gas and oil in the ground if we want to tackle climate change.
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Justice for Cleaners Protest

SOAS London University. Wed 23 Oct 2013
Cleaners speak out on the steps of SOAS
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The campaign to bring the SOAS cleaners back in-house and to ensure that all outsourced workers at SOAS are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve continued with another lunchtime protest.

Protests at SOAS over a number of years have reesulted in cleaners getting the London Living Wage, but they are still employed by large outsourcing corporations rather than the university. This makes them still very much second-class workers in SOAS, with greatly inferior conditions of service - with only the statutory provisions for sick pay poor treatment over holidays and no proper pension provision.

The cleaners have enjoyed great support from students and both administrative and teaching staff employed by SOAS, who all see the contradiction between the worthy aims of the institution and its teaching with regard to social justice and the failure to apply this to people working in the institution. They want the cleaners to be directly employed by SOAS rather than being on shoddy outsourced contracts.

Currently SOAS management are employing delaying tactics, using a plan to bring cleaners at several university establishments under common management to put off any decision about how the cleaners should be employed. They should instead be using their influence to bring the cleaners in the several institutions involved onto the university payroll and get rid of outsourcing.

Direct employment of cleaning staff would be beneficial to both the cleaners and to SOAS, producing a more motivated and loyal workforce that would be more directly under the control of the institution. Although the outsourcing company is a huge corporation, its local management here and elsewhere is generally poor - and cleaners at many workplaces complain of arbitrary treatment, racism and bullying by poor managers.

The fight for justice at SOAS has been lead by Unison, and as well as their local rep, Jon Rogers, a member of the Unison National Executive Council also spake. It seems likely unless the management is willing to change its position that the workers there will soon be balloting for strike action. Other speakers included several of the cleaners, representatives from the SOAS students union and University of London Union's vice-president Daniel Lemberger Cooper.

There was also a disturbing speech about the renaming of one of the rooms at SOAS. G2 was where cleaners were interrogated by UK Borders staff after the SOAS management invited them on campus for a raid on the cleaners who had all been told they had to attend an early morning meeting. One of the cleaners who was deported as a result of this raid was a woman six months pregnant. Staff and students at SOAS pressed for management to rename the room after her son as the Lucas Lecture Theatre. Instead, SOAS management have decided to rename the room DL2 after the son of a wealthy donor. The speaker asked those at the protest to reject this decision and to ensure that the room was always known as the Lucas Lecture Theatre or LLT for short.

The protest was still continuing when I had to leave.
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Fossil-Free London Lobby Tour

Bank & Stock Exchange, London. Tue 22 Oct 2013

The protesters used balloons to represent carbon dioxide

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Climate campaigners made a tour of London sites which keep us locked into a fossil fuel dependent economy, stopping to make brief speeches of explanations, poems and songs, carrying black ballons to represent carbon dioxide.

The tour was a part of a campaign by People & Planet and to break the links between UK universities and the fossil fuel industry, aiming to build a clean energy future for all.

The group met at Bank, where police approached them and asked what they planned to do, seeming to be satisfied when told it was just going on a tour around the City with stops to talk about some of the companies and organisations involved in promoting and profiting from fossil fuels.

At Bank several of the protesters changed into white protective suits, a singer gave us his version of a Woody Guthrie song, and poet Pete the Temp performed one of his poems, surrounded by 'Climate Crime Scene' hazard tape held by the protesters and draped between a couple of lamp posts, and there was a short introduction to the event and the role of City-based businesses in promoting climate change through their continuing committment to fossil fuels.

Black balloons were then handed out and blown up, to represent carbon emissions, and some were labelled with tape, others with correcting fluid to indicate they were carbon dioxide. The group then walked with these to the Stock Exchange, pausing briefly outside the entrance on Newgate St before moving around to the main entrance in Paternoster Square.

Here there were more speeches and another song - 'Buddy Can You Spare a Dime' and the balloons were popped as a small group of police and a security officer from the Stock Exchange looked on from a few yards away.

The tour then moved off to visit other 'carbon criminals' in the City, and I left them on the corner of Gresham St.
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Chinatown Says 'No Entry UKBA'

Gerrard St, Soho, London. Tue 22 Oct 2013

A woman puts up a 'No Entry' Sign for the UKBA in a Chinese restuarant window
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Chinatown's restuarants and shops closed for two hours this afternoon for a protest rally and march against 'fishing raids' in Chinatown by the UK Borders Agency who enter premises and interrogate those present about their immigration status.

The raids by the UKBA have greatly angered the Chinese community in London's Chinatown, with groups of their investigators raiding restuarants and other premises and demanding to see evidence by those at work there that they have permission to live in the UK.

Many of those questioned in such raids are British citizens, and others have leave to stay in the country, or are here visiting relatives on tourist visas, but the raids have found a small number who are in the UK without the proper papers. But the raids appear to be carried out in a random fashion on the off-chance that there might be so-called 'illegal immigrants' working in the premises - 'fishing raids'.

Such raids have no real legal status in the UK, as we are not required to carry identification and can simply refuse to answer questions and there is no requirement to give our name or address. We can simply walk away - as a flyer that was being handed out advised.

As the start of the two hour shut-down approached, more and more shops and restuarants began to turn customers away and put up signs in their windows and doorways with the message 'No Entry to UKBA fishing raids'. Soon almost every restuarant and shop in Gerrard St and the adjoining streets of Chinatown was shut, and people gathered by the Two Lions statue.

The start of the protest was marked by much furious blowing of whistles, and then there were a number of speeches by leading members of London's Chinese Community. As well as objecting to the UKBA raids, some also expressed the need to be able to bring workers skilled in Chinese cooking to this country more easily in a legal manner if they were to maintain their traditional practices which are vital to keep Chinatown truly Chinese.

A small group broke away from the rally to briefly protest outside the only business still open on Gerrard St, standing outside and shouting for a couple of minutes, but they soon moved off without any further action.

The organisers then staged a march around Chinatown, before returning to the Two Lions for some more speeches, and the rally there was continuing as I left, although some of the workers had gone back to the restuarants to begin preparations to re-open their doors to customers at the end of the two hour protest.
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Movement Against Xenophobia

Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Tue 22 Oct 2013

Lee Jasper speaking towards Parliament in front of the protesters
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The newly formed Movement Against Xenophobia held a protest and lobby against Immigration Bill 2013 which was to be debated later in the day, complaining about its racist and xenophobic nature.

Protesters met outside Parliament and held a rally with a number of speakers including Habib Rahman, Chief Executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Unite political director Jenny Formby, Antonia from the Movement for Justice, Liberal Democrat Lester Holliday and Lee Jasper who chaired the event.

The Movement Against Xenophobia is a new campaign aimed at countering the vicious anti-immigrant discourse of mainstream politics in the UK, and particularly concerned about the xenophobic nature of the new Immigration Bill, which simply removes the great majority of the grounds on which foreign nationals can lodge an appeal against deportation, puts a requirement on banks and landlords to check immigration status of those setting up accounts or becoming tenants, increases the fines for employers who hire anyone without the right to work here, and includes new powers to check driving licence applicants are in the country legally. The bill also seeks to impose a levy on temporary migrants to allow them access to free NHS care.

There are already draconian restrictions on bringing spouses to this country that are splitting many families, with a minimum income level required that literally half the population cannot meet, causing real hardship and heartache for many.

The government conspires with the right-wing press to whip up distrust and hatred of foreigners and to creat a climate of hostility and fear. It competes with the opposition in an attempt to exhibit a harder line against immigrants. The recent racist vans and e-mails sent out by the government are an example of how low it will sink.

Yet report after report show that migrants make a substantial postitive contribution to the economy, enrich Britain’s culture and improve the standard of its public services. The Movement Against Xemnophobia (MAX)says in a statement on their web site:

We want to live in a civilized society where people, irrespective of background, are valued and treated with respect. We are migrants, descendants of migrants and ‘indigenous’ British people. We stand together for a diverse and inclusive society. We believe we can live together with dignity and peace, learning from each other’s differences and contributing to a better place for future generations to live in.

Join with us in rejecting this move towards intolerance, and join the fight for a more inclusive UK.

MAX is a coalition of many existing groups concerned over the increasing victimisation of migrants in the UK and the rising level of racism among politicians and racist violence in the country. It intends to challenge the current vicious anti-immigrant discourse. One useful starting point would be to challenge the continual use of the term 'illegal immigrant'. No one is illegal, although they may not have the legal right to live here. They are undocumented but not illegal.
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Vigil at Work Assessments Appeal

Royal Courts of Justice, London. Mon 21 Oct 2013

Woman speaking at vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice
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Disablement activists from Mental Health Resistance Network & DPAC held a vigil at the Royal Courts of Justice as the government appealed against May's judgement that work capability assessments discriminate against the disabled and mentally ill.

TThe judicial review in May focussed on specific issues for those with mental health issues – that of gathering supporting evidence. Individuals are responsible for gathering their own medical evidence and sending it to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). There have been many complaints of the information submitted being lost, but even if not, the requirement to make this submission is difficult for many applicants. Many have also complained that even when this evidence is submitted is is not properly considered in coming to a decision.

The case was taken by the Mental Health Resistance Network, and today they had organised a vigil at the start of the appeal against the ruling by the DWP. It's difficult to understand why the DWP decided to appeal rather than to mend their ways and introduce a fairer and more rational assessment system. Perhaps they hope they can win on some legal technicality, but the system is widely seen to be both discriminatory and largely dysfunction - as even reports they have themselves commissioned have shown. There is an urgent need for change, and radical reform to a system so that it makes the needs of benefit claimants rather than a simplistic approach to cost-cutting its priority. Frankly the court case seems a distraction when change is so obviously needed.

As one of those who spoke today pointed out, cutting benefits is not necessarily cost-effective. After failing an Atos assessment, her benefit was cut, which precipitated a breakdown that required crisis care from the NHS at a cost of around £40,000, approaching a hundred times the saving of the benefit cut.

It is perhaps surprising that any government can withstand public opinion over a policy that in 2011 resulted - according to DWP statistics obtained by Freedom of Information request - 73 deaths per week within 3 months of a failed Atos assessment. The DWP's response to these damning statistics was to stop collecting the statistics - and to leak various stories about 'benefit scroungers' to the press, who continue to publish many stories about this while ignoring the much more serious problems of the benefits system.

The DWP's attitude can be clearly seen in their recent response to a 'consultation' over the distance disabled people have to be unable to walk to qualify for Personal Independence Payments. The consultation only took place after legal action forced them to do so.

While a distance of 50 metres is generally used as a Government measure of mobility, the distance for PIP is set at only 20 metres. Of 1124 responses to the consultation only 5 supported the 20 metre criterion. The DWP response notes this and that many respondents were concerned that the 20 metres distance "would have negative consequences for individuals" and "could increase isolation and reduce independence, have significant financial impact, and cause deterioration in their physical and mental health.

But despite the overwhelming response the DWP have decided not to change from the 20m criterion. What is the point of consultation if no action is taken on the comments made?

The appeal proceedings at the Royal Courts of Justice are expected to finish at 1pm tomorrow, but it may be some weeks before the decision is announced.
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Make Caste Discrimination Illegal Now

Hyde Park to Whitehall, London. Sat 19 Oct 2013

Protesters, mainly from the Ravidassia community, marched in the rain demanding the government act

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Approaching a thousand marched through central London taking a petition by CasteWatch UK with over 20,000 signatures to Downing St, calling for an end to the government delays in making caste discrimination illegal in the UK.

The Labour government in the Equality Act 2010 gave the power to the Minister to prohibit caste discrimination by making caste an aspect of race, but they lost the election before doing so.

The coalition government did not want to act, but suffered several defeats in Parliament and were eventually forced to do something. Earlier this year, Parliament inserted a provision in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 mandating the minister to provide for caste to be made an aspect of race, but instead of carrying this out, they set a two year timetable for consultation. The consultation appears only to be with established groups dominated by upper caste interests, and its length entirely unnecessary.

The long delay announced by Minister for Women and Equalities Helen Grant MP appears to be as a result of lobbying by the Alliance of Hindu Organisations, (AHO) a body set up to oppose what they call "the threat posed by this proposed amendment to the Equality Act 2010."

It isn't clear why a simple elimination of a clearly discriminatory practice shouled be regarded as a threat. Caste discrimination has long been illegal (although still rife) in India. A speaker from the South Asia Solidarity Group at the rally challenged the claim of the AHO to speak for the Hindu community in the UK, and alleged that they were dominated by supporters of groups that would be considered fascist in the UK and were responsible for atrocities against non-Hindus in India.

Other speakers included leaders from the Ravidassia community and a Sikh, who reminded the rally that opposition to castism was one of the central aspects of the Sikh religion - and so also of Ravidassia, which has close links to Sikhism which have been strained since the murder in 2009 of a leading Ravidassia cleric by hardline orthodox Sikh militants.

The organisers, CasteWatch UK, brought with them a petition with over 20,000 signatures which a small group took into to 10 Downing St while a rally was held opposite on Whitehall. The petition called on the government "to act quickly to give effect to Parliament's intention and to protest actual and potential victims of caste discrimination" and to set an new, prompt timetable, starting as soon as possible and lasting no more than 12 weeks so that an order under the Equality Act 2010 is made at the latest by June 2014.

Both houses of parliament have voted for caste discrimination to be made illegal in the UK and the government's failure to act immediately to do so under pressure from extremist higher caste groups seems inexcusable.

CasteWatch UK say over 200,000 people from the so-called lower castes are now living in the UK and are affected by caste discrimination. A statement by Satpal Muman (Chairman) and Davinder Parsad (Secretary) of Caste Watch UK said:

“There is opposition to the legislation from some sections of Asian communities who want to maintain the status quo of Caste. These communities have exerted a powerful influence on the government to procrastinate.”

“Victims of Caste Based Discrimination deserve the same legal protection as those affected by discrimination on grounds of race, gender, religion and disability etc. It is unacceptable that in modern Britain, why one section of the community should discriminate against another based on outdated ancient customs and traditions. Caste victims deserve immediate protection!”

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Don't Be Blind to DR Congo Murders

Piccadilly Circus, London. Sat 19 Oct 2013

Protesters handed out a thousand free flowers
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Activists posed in blindfolds while others handed out a thousand free flowers at Piccadilly Circus to urge people not to be blind to the atrocities in SR Congo, Uganda & Rwanda as battles continue for their mineral wealth.

The west has largely turned a blind eye to the horrific conflicts in these countries, where more than 8 million people have been murdered and over 500,00 men, women and children raped as various armies, funded by many European and North African multinational companies have fought for gold, diamonds and in particular coltan in the area.

Few in the UK have heard of coltan, but this mineral containing both niobium and tantalum is a vital material for the capacitors which are essential in mobile phones, computers, missiles and other modern technology on which we rely. The fight for it has been the main incentive behind the genocidal wars that have waged in the area.

Various protests over the years by Congolese in London have met with no real response from our government. The 'Don't be Blind This Time' campaign aims to draw public attention to what is happening in this part of Africa, where no one has been brought to justice for the crimes against humanity. They have lunached an online petition at the 'Don't be Blind This Time' web site and today were handing out a thousand flowers with their message that we need to demand justice and an end to the impunity and cover up around this conflict.
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Global Frackdown: Lord Browne resign!

Mayfair, London. Sat 19 Oct 2013

'Lord Browne Frack Off!' was the message to Cuadrilla boss.

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A protest at Riverstone Holdings, a private equity firm in which Lord Browne of Madingley is managing director, called on the former BP boss to resign from his position in the House of Lords because of his vested interests in fracking.

Lord Browne became managing director of BP from 1991 until he resigned on May 1, 2007 after news of his private life and in particular that he had committed perjury to prevent details of this becoming known. In his time at BP he was responsible for a ruthless programme of cost-cutting that many feel compromised safety and contributed to the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion and in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Lord Browne is now Managing Director and Managing Partner (Europe) of Riverstone Holdings LLC, and more significantly for today's protest the chairman of Britain's only shale gas driller Cuadrilla Resources, the company whose exploratory drilling at Balcombe hit the news earlier this year.

In a protest that was a part of a 'Global Frackdown' taking place round the world today, with protests elsewhere in the UK and in Romania, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and Indonesia - and 26 countries in all, around 20 young Friends of the Earth activists met on Oxford St before walking to the offices of Riverstone Holdings in Burlington Gardens, where the company are on the 6th floor of an office building.

After a brief speech explaining Lord Browne's involvement with both Riverstone Holdings and Cuadrilla, those taking part were invited to write messages to be put into a small brown rubbish bin to be left at the offices for him. Several people did so while others posed with banners and posters. Then people posed holding letters that spelt out first 'Lord Browne don't frack our futures' and then 'Solidarity Elsipogtog', showing their support for Elsipogtog First Nation, a Mi'kmaq First Nations band government in New Brunswick, Canada, where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police attacked protesters demonstrating against fracking a few days ago. The RCMP used live ammunition and tear gas, and then arrested more than 40 people in their attempt to enforce an injunction to end the protest there.

In London, police merely came to ask the protesters what they attempted to do before saying 'Fine, no problem' and moving back. PCSOs did later ask the protesters to ensure there was a free path along the pavement and remind them and photographers of the danger from the slow moving traffic along Burlington Gardens.

The protesters are worried about the pollution of the fracking process - a single well can need 2-9 million gallons of water contaminated with sand and toxic chemicals, much of which returns to the surface to contaminate water sources with radioactive chemicals. They also oppose the further exploitation of any fossil fuels - whether fracked or not - because of the contribution of carbon dioxide and other climate changing chemicals when the gas produced is used.

The protesters got ready to deliver their messages to the office reception, only to find that the doors, which had been open earlier, were now locked. They left the bin containing them in front of the doors and dispersed.
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Stop Shipping Tear Gas to Bahrain

Korean Embassy, Westminster, London. Fri 18 Oct 2013

A protester in a gas mask in front of a Bahraini flag
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A protest at the Korean Embassy in London by the Campaign Against Arms Trade and free Bahrainis called on the Korea to stop a massive teargas shipment by Korean companies to Bahrain.

Recently the Bahraini government put out a tender for the supply of over 1.6 million canisters of teargas to Bahrain - more than one canister for every single Bahraini. The main suppliers of teagas used there have been the DaeKwang Chemical Corporation and CNO Tech of South Korea along with South African/German company Rheinmetall Denel. The two Korean companies between them supplied more than 1.5 million canisters in 2001-2012.

Since 2011, Bahrain's security forces have misused tear gas indiscriminately and inhumanely, causing injury, death, miscarriages, and possible long-term health complications. Tear gas is supposed to be 'non-lethal' but the high level of use, including firing directly into homes and also the firing of canisters at short range at people have caused serious injuries and deaths. According to Physicians for Human Rights, 39 people have died from the use of tear gas, and some of the protesters today held up some horrific photographs of their injuries.

The protesters asked the Koreans to immediately stop exporting CS gas and other chemical agents to Bahrain, so that no more peaceful protesters would be killed with Korean products. They reminded the Korean Ambassador that other countries, including the United States, have already stopped exporting tear gas to Bahrain because of the abuses there, and that companies that continue to export these products will be held liable under International Law on the grounds of contributing to the intentional abuse and misuse of chemical agents by the Bahrain security forces.

The protesters invited the Ambassador or other Korean representative to come out from the embassy and discuss the issue with them, but no one had done so by the time I left the protest. The embassy had presumably called the police, as a police car and two police motorcyclists had arrived and were watching the peaceful protest on the pavement opposite the embassy.

Many of the protesters wore rubber 'gas masks' and waved Bahraini flags. One chalked the message 'Stop the Shipments' in large chalk letters on the pavement, and there were several banners about tear gas.
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Anti-Slavery Day Sinai Torture Protest

Westminster, London. Fri 18 Oct 2013

A protester holds up a poster in front of the Houses of Parliament

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The Stop Sinai Torture Campaign marched to parliament on UK Anti-Slavery Day against human trafficking and criminal gangs in Egypt’s Sinai Desert who traffick and brutally torture refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from Eritrea and Sudan.

They came to present a petition to the UK Government to put pressure on the United Nations to identify and apprehend traffickers, and to help protect victims of trafficking. Amnesty International reported in April that “many people held captive in Sinai have been subjected to extreme violence and brutality while waiting for ransoms to be paid by families. Including beatings with metal chains, sticks and whips; burning with cigarette butts or heated rubber and metal objects; suspension from the ceiling; pouring gasoline over the body and setting it on fire...being urinated on and having finger nails pulled out. Rape of men and women, and other forms of sexual violence have been frequently reported."

The protesters met at Marble Arch to march through London to the Houses of Parliament where I met them and they held a rally. When I left they were waiting for Frank Field MP who was to come out later and to present their petition. He is working with Teresa May who at the Tory Party conference announced that the government plans to introduce a Modern Day Slavery Bill, aimed at eliminating slavery in the UK.
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Teachers March against Government Plans

Westminster, London. Thu 17 Oct 2013

The protest reached a peak outside the offices of the Department for Education
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Striking teachers from London and the South marched through London to a rally in Westminster against government attacks on pensions and pay and Michael Gove's plan to remove all limits to the working day and the school year.

The strike by members of the NUT and NASUWT has been well supported in schools, with some London boroughs reporting over 40% of schools completely closed, with less than 10% able to work normally. The march through London was huge, at one point stretching out almost a mile, and it brought much of central London to a halt for several hours with traffic chaos.

Teachers are angry at what they see as an attack which threatens the future of education in England by ninister Michael Gove, and at his failure to negotiate with the unions over his proposals to severely worsen their working conditions.

They demand that he abandon his plans to de-regulate teachers' pay and conditions, which would allow schools to set their own pay levels, working hours and holiday dates and lead to chaos and, at school level, waste much time and effort in bureaucracy. National pay negotiations lead are fairer and prevent much pointless competition between schools to attract the best teachers and avoid contention between management and staff. As NUT General Secretary Christine Blower points out "even large multinational companies like Tescop and Sainsbury's have a national framework of pay and conditions for their staff."

The teachers want Gove to carry out the long overdue valuation of the Teachers' Pension scheme and withdraw the threat to make teachers work until they are 68, and to withdraw his proposals for Performance Related Pay.

I met the front of the march, which began next to the University of London in Malet St, as it came past Downing St, where many protesters paused briefly to shout. The march continued past the Houses of Parliament in Parliament Square, then past the Dept for Education. After a few thousand had marched past, others decided to stop on the road there and there was a large crowd still outside shouting at the ministry when I left some time later. The end of the march was by then just leaving Parliament Square.

I had to walk to my next destination, as the bus services were disrupted and many roads jammed with traffic. At Aldwych I got on a bus, only to get off it again five minutes later as it had only moved a few feet in that time, and continued on foot. An hour later, coming home, traffic on Kingsway was still moving at less than walking speed in both directions.
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Letting Agencies Illegal Colour Bar

Willesden, London. Tue 15 Oct 2013

On the march against racist letting agencies with Brent Housing Action, Unite Community and others
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Protesters in Brent were quick to react after revelations broadcast last night on BBC London's 'Inside Out London' shown on BBC1 showed ten lettings agents, including two on Willesden High Road, prepared to break equality laws and discriminate against African-Caribbean people on behalf of landlords.

The BBC investigators had asked the agents to put a Ladbroke Grove flat on the market having first checked with them they were willing to discriminate, although the agents clearly knew it was illegal. Matched Black and White investigators then went to ask for a viewing. At National Estates, the Black applicant was told the flat had already been let, while the White man was given an appointment to view, while A to Z told the Black investigator they would ring back - but never did, while offering the White investigator a viewing. It seems clear that both agents were operating an illegal colour bar.

Brent Housing Action organised a protest against National Estate Agents and A to Z Property services, the two agents highlighted in the BBC report, supported by Unite Community, Brent Renters Campaign, Housing 4 All (the Counihan Family Campaign), Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group, and Cllr Margaret McLennan, Brent Council's lead member for housing. Several other Brent councillors and prospective councillors and other members of the Labour and Green Parties were also present. Khuran Siab and Kevin Smith from the Willesden Green branch of estate agents Harts just along the road from National Estates also joined the protest.

There was a little unpleasantness at the start of the protest when some Brent councillors were unhappy at the presence of Counihan's 'Housing 4 All' banner and Isabel Counihan-Sanchez and other supporters. The family campaign, revealing unfair treatment and mismanagement by Brent Council has been a cause celebre in the area, and there was some rudeness towards them, and an attempt to stop their banner being photographed by the press.

But the local politics were soon forgotten in the unity shown by all against the illegal colour bar by the letting agents. It seemed to many like a return to the disgusting practices of the 1950s and 60s, made illegal under the 1968 Race Relations Act, and now against the Equality Act 2010.

Both letting agents were closed and shuttered for the day, possibly in reaction to the BBC report and planned protest. The protesters want to see them and others who break the law in this way brought to justice, and would like to see such businesses closed down. It is well known that discrimination by letting agents is a common practice, and the BBC report mentioned a Runnymede Trust survey that showed "29% of black people seeking private housing had experienced discrimination - compared to 1% of white respondents." The BBC also say that "36 people told the Property Ombudsman they were the victim of racial discrimination in the past three years, not one single complaint was upheld" and "Only two allegations resulted in a full investigation."

After around half an hour of protest outside National Estate Agents, around 30 protesters marched the half mile along Willesden High Rd to A to Z Properties, where a further protest with a few short speeches by Sarah Cox and others was held.

Brent is one of London's more multicultural boroughs, and one with a proud record of community activities celebrating this. Brent Housing Action and others including Brent councillors are to take further actions against this colour bar by the lettings agencies and intend to "make sure these practices - and the racism underpinning them - can finally be consigned to history."
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Vigil for Shaker Aamer

Parliament Square, London SW1. Wed 9 Oct 2013
Campaigners carry the banner and placards along the pavement in Parliament Square
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Every weekday in spring and summer, lunchtime visitors to the Houses of Parliament were greeted by campaigners in orange jumpsuits, from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who has just complained to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which "investigates complaints about the conduct of the UK’s intelligence agencies," about the intelligence services’ role in his kidnapping and torture, and, in the US, has submitted a motion calling for him to be allowed a visit by an independent medical expert.

Cleared for release in 2007 and again in 2010, Shaker’s ongoing detention is an abomination, and an indictment of the indifference of both the US and UK governments.

Campaigners are resuming regular vigils, normally weekly, beginning on Wednesday October 9, seeking to draw attention to the failures of both President Obama and David Cameron, as well as demanding a full Parliamentary debate about Shaker’s case.

Earlier this year, campaigners secured the 100,000 signatures on an e-petition that were necessary to trigger a Parliamentary debate, but all that has happened so far is a backbench debate in Westminster Hall.
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Cannabis Hypocrisy Protest

Westminster, London. Wed 9 Oct 2013

An MS sufferer tells me how important cannabis is in her condition

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A protest opposite Parliament called for reform of the laws about cannabis, in particular to allow its medical use for MS sufferers. Legal medical cannabis is mainly available here to MS sufferers who can afford to pay its very high price.

The protest started late, and by the time I went home around 90 minutes afterwards, the megaphone or PA system they wanted to begin the speeches had still not arrived. They had hoped to have a Dutch MS sufferer with a licence allowing them to smoke it legally - even in the UK - would be at the protest, but he was unable to attend, and a replacement could not get the paperwork through in time.

But quite a few people did arrive, and sat around on the grass smoking. Someone played a guitar, and there was some music from a small loudspeaker with a cannabis motif. Two police came and took a look and then strolled away. I was finding the smell of the smoke a little disturbing, making me feel just slightly unbalanced, and left.
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Gurkha Veterans Demand Justice

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Wed 9 Oct 2013
Many of the Ghurkas wore their campaign medals
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Elderly Gurkha veterans did not benefit from earlier campaigns for fair treatment and most live here in extreme poverty. They petitioned the government and hold regular protests at Parliament, in advance of a hunger strike to begin on 24 October.

They hold a protest by the statue of King George V in Old Palace Yard every Wednesday and Thursday at noon, 2pm and 4pm, with an invitation to the government to hold talks with them there.

They submitted their petition to Prime Minister David Cameron and the Nepalese Prime Minister and have "with a heavy heart ... issued an ultimatum to Downing St that if serious action does not take place and talks are not held with our advocated by 24 October 2013" they will begin a programme of nonviolent resistance (Satyagraha) with hunger strikes, at first with a "13 days relay hunger strike in the name of the 13 Ghurka VCs followed by a fast-unto-death."
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Police & Developers Evict Soho Working Girls

Greek St, Soho, London. Wed 9 Oct 2013

Women support Soho sex workers in fight against evictions that render them unsafe
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Soho police threatened to prosecute Soho Estates for letting their premises be used as brothels; they threatened the leaseholders who last night evicted the women. The real reasons that underlie the continuing campaigns for these and similar evictions in Soho is thought to be to empty properties to allow redevelopment.

Evictions like this in Romilly St last night of sex workers and their receptionists are taking place regardless of whether there is evidence that the flats are brothels. If there is only one sex worker in each flat, no offence is being committed. Many sex workers apparently chose to work in this way, with a receptionist, as a legal and far safer alternative to working on the street. The action by the police which leads to the eviction of women forces many back to working on the street and the many dangers that arise.

Soho Estates managing director John James (the son-in-law of the late Paul Raymond) came out to meet the protesters and argue their case, saying that the police notice gave them no choice but to get their leaseholders in Romilly St to take action. Of course that isn't true; they could have asked the leaseholders to investigate if any of the flats were occupied by more than a single sex-worker, and if so to either evict those particular flats or ensure that they only had a single sex worker. Having done so, they could have told the police that they have investigated and are satisfied there are no brothels on the premises - and ignore the notification letters.

Soho estates own over 60 acres around Soho, and are thought to be worth more the £370 million. They could well afford to back cases like this as a part of their avowed aim to keep the unique edgy intimacy of the area - this is really a part of the heart of Soho that the company says it wants to maintain.

The police are then very unlikely to take cases to court, and likely to lose should they do so. The whole point of using the notification letters is as a rather underhand method of avoiding court proceedings by intimidating the property owners and leaseholders. It's something the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is hoping to challenge in court.

As well as speakers from various groups supporting the 'working girls', including Women Against Rape and the ECP who organised the protest, and several of the women who were evicted, the protest was addressed by a speaker from the Soho Society, who gave her support. Their activites are one of the oldest traditions of the area, and cause no problems with their neighbours and the many other trades of the area.

In a press release, Tracy, one of those evivted from Romilly Street commented:

“We will all lose our livelihoods. I’ve been working in Soho for 33 years, first as a working woman and now as a receptionist. We are not criminals. We are mothers and grandmothers supporting families. What other choices do we have to make a living – zero hours contracts on less than the minimum wage in restaurants, warehouses or cleaning? We cannot support our families on that.

The police are widely seen as being agents of the property developers who want to make billions from knocking down Soho and redevelop parts of it as hotels and luxury flats.

Soho is an area of London with a unique ambience, and one that is very much at danger from redevelopment. Women working in flats in Peter Street were recently told they are to be evicted in January - to make way for a major hotel and luxury flats development.

The ECP say:

Local residents and businesses have always supported sex workers in Soho. Thousands signed a petition against previous evictions. Many express fears that gentrification is behind attempts to close these flats and that if sex workers are forced out it will lead the way for other small and unique businesses and bars to be drowned out by major construction, chain stores and corporations.

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Scrap Royal London NHS PFI Debt

Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London. Tue 8 Oct 2013

Nurses and others protest behind the banner outside the Royal London Hospital
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Campaigners protested at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel where PFI payments of £129m a year to a private consortium are ruining Barts Health Trust leading to downgrading of staff, staff shortages and planned hospital closures across east London.

The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel was in desperate need of a new buiding, but instead of funding this through government expenditure, a ruinous Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was agreed with a private consortium. The annual repayment on this of £129m threatens NHS services not just at the Royal London, but at all the hospitals in the Barts Health Trust, which covers much of East London, including Barts, The Royal London, Newham General, Whipps Cross and London Chest Hospital, as well as many smaller community facilities.

To meet these repayments, Barts Health Trust needs to cut £78m from its budget this year, an impossible task without severely limiting the services it provides both in the hospitals and in community services.

The trust proposes to downgrade the posts of many of its staff, paying them less for doing the same work, or rather doing more work, as there will be increasing staff shortages with vacancies being deliberately left unfilled - and new staff being unwilling to come and work for a trust that wants to pay them less than their experience and qualifications merit.

Inevitably as well as attacking the staff, the trust will close some departments and A&E at Whipps Cross or Newham seem likely to close. The situation for those who live in east London is made wose by the threats of closures at neighbouring Homerton Hospital. Altogether there are nine casualty departments in London currently under threat of closure.

The protesters started their rally on the pavement outside the hospital on the busy Whitechapel Road, but police soon told them there were too many people and after a short debate the protest moved into the access road in front of the new PFI-finanaced Royal London Hospital (where they had previously been denied permission to hold it.)

There were speeches from GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and trade union reps from the Royal London and from Whipps Cross, who made clear both the severity of the current problems and the likely consequences of the plans by the trust. At the moment the Royal London is seriously under stress, unable to open the top two floors of the very expensive new building, and for two days recently unable to admit any new patients.

The only solution is to find ways to remove the PFI debt. There is a strong argument for renegotiation of the contracts, which were often far too favourable to the providers of the finance and made in a very different financial climate. As one speaker pointed out, althought he government say that this is not possible because they are contracts, the fact that hospital staff have contracts is not preventing their employers from trying to change them to pay them on lower grades.

Trade unionists from other unions and workplaces also came to give their support, both from local government and the RMT. There was a good spirit to the rally, and a real determination to keep the NHS providing a good service to the public. In the closing speech, Candy Udwin, of Keep Our NHS Public shared some good news to encourage the fight to save the hosopitals. She told the meeting of some successes. Lewisham Hospital had not just won its court case, the trusts also received extra funding to offset some of the PFI cuts. Another success had been acheived at the Whittington Hospital, where protests had led to the dropping of closure plands. And in Hackney, Harmoni had lost their contract for out of hours services to local GPs.
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Don't Gag Free Speech

Parliament Square, London. Tue 8 Oct 2013

A protester with a gag across here mouth and a placard 'Censorship = Dictatorship - You will not silence us
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A rally in Parliament Square in London celebrated freedom of speech on the day that the government debated a controversial gagging law which would prevent non-politicians from expressing their views and campaigning on serious issues.

The aim of the new proposed anti-lobbying laws was said to be to prevent lobbying by commercial lobbyists on behalr of companies and private interests, but it almost totall fails to address this. Instead it would place severe limitations on the ability of charities and non-governmental organisations to campaign on an very wide range of issues in the year before elections, leading to complaints from a whole range of charities and organisations, including Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, Hope Not Hate, the British Legion and the RSPB.

The changes have been opposed by bodies including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, attacked by MPs on both sides of the house and by many champtions of free speech, including bloggers who would be affected by the law.

There are already some bodies whose expenditure on campaigning is capped in the year before an election, and the bill proposed to cut the amount they could spend drastically, reducing the cash amount to well under half the present limit, and also including items of expenditure previously not accounted for - such as rallies, advertising and staff costs - into the regulated amount.

Campaigners see the proposals as undemocratic, preventing the free expression of any views that may have a political dimension except by those who are a part of registered political parties. Politics really is too important to be left to the politicians, however inconvenient or embarassing the views of the rest of us may be to them, their free expression is at the base of democracy.
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PMOI call for release of 7 Hostages in Iraq

Trafalgar Square, London. Sun 6 Oct 2013

I think the white balloons with faces represented the 52 martyrs who had gone to heaven.
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Members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, many on the 36th day of hunger strike, held an protest in Trafalgar Square calling for the release of 7 hostages taken when Iraqi forces invaded Camp Ashraf on September 1, killing 52.

The attack on the camp in Iraq where the Iranians live as refugees was ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Mailki and is the latest in a long history of attacks on the Iranian militia group who are refugees in Iraq. The seven prisoners are still held in the Baghdad Green Zone in Iraq despite calls by a hundred Iraqi MPs for their release. Hunger strikes were started at Camp Ashraf and by Iranians in Geneva, Berlin, Ottawa, Melbourne and London, where they set up a camp in front of the US Embassy. A line of hunger strikers, on the 36 day of their strike, was seated at the front of the audience at today's rally, holding roses and taking an active part in the event, raising their fists and shouting.

The rally called for immediate release of the seven prisoners, and for UN forces to be stationed permanently at Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty to provide the protection the PMOI, who the UN granted asylum status. They urged the USA and UN agencies to make urgent representtion for the release of the prisoners.

The People's Mujahedin of Iran is also known as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and was formed as a leftist political mass movement in Iran in 1965. It was one of the groups that took part in the 1979 revolution against the Shah. After the revolution it at first sided with Ayatollah Khomeni but was soon involved in an armed struggle with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, eventually having to take refuge in neighbouring Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gave it refuge.

After the US invasion of Iraq when its camps were bombed, a ceasefire was agreed with the US and the PMOI renounced violence and gave up its arms - including 19 Chieftain tanks and the party became the main part of the Iranian parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), with its base in Paris. In Iraq, the roughly 5000 PMOI fighters were confined in the refugee Camp Ashraf, guarded by the US military and declared by the US as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The camp was transferred to Iraqi control at the start of 2009, and in 2012 those remaining were transferred to the former US military base Camp Liberty in Bagdhad, renamed Camp Hurriya.

Both Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty have been attacked by Iraqi security forces, with a raid in July 2009 on Camp Ashraf killing 11 and injuring over 500. They also arrested 36, who were later released in near death condition following an extended hunger strike. There was a further attack in October 2010 and in January 2011, when 176 were wounded, apparently by Iraqis paid by the Iranian government. In April 2011, Iraqi security forces attacked again an 36 camp residents were killed and 320 injured. Camp Liberty was attacked by the Iraqis on 9 Feb 2013 using mortars and rockets, with at least 7 deaths and many injuries. The PMOI residents have appealed to the UN Secretary General and the US for help, and to be allowed to move back to Camp Ashraf, which has concrete buildings which give greater protection.

The PMOI is regarded as a terrorist group by both Iraq and Iran, but the EU removed them from its list of terrorist groups in 2009 and the US in 2012. But they are alleged to have carried out severe human rights abuses against former members. After they left Camp Ashraf there were several allegations that mass graves were found there, but the PMOI say that these reports were part of a continuing Iranian demonization campaign against them, and point out that US and UN investigations have been unable to confirm the reports.
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Egypt For & Against Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptian Embassy, South St, London. Sun 6 Oct 2013

Egyptian women shout their support of the army deposing Morsi
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A group of around a hundred Muslims, including some Egyptians was protesting noising opposite the Egyptian Embassy against the removal of Egyptian President Morsi by the army, and the subsequent heavy-handed suppression of protests by the Muslim Brotherhood. They call the army's actions a military coup.

A few yards along the road was a smaller protest with perhaps half as many present, mainly women and almost all Egyptians. They were there to support the actions by the army, saying that ed-President Mohamed Morsi who had narrowly won the election run-off in June 2012 had abused his position of power by granted himself unlimited powers and issuing an Islamist-backed draft constitution. His call for a referendum on this was seen as a betrayal of the Egyptian revolution against Mubarak and an attempt at an Islamist coup.
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Freedom for Ocalan & Kurdistan

Wood Green, London. Sun 6 Oct 2013
The banners, including a large image of Ocalan are laid out ready for the march
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Kurds marched through north London on the 15th anniversary of the kidnappping of their national leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1998, calling for peace, the release of Ocalan and a free Kurdistan.
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Daily Mail You Told All the Lies

Daily Mail, Kensington, London. Sun 6 Oct 2013

Daily Mail apologise now over the lies about Ralph Milliband

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Several hundred went to the Daily Mail to protest against the many lies against the BBC, NHS, public sector workers, trade unionists, socialists, women, Muslims, travellers and others brought to a head in its unfair attack on Ralph Milliband.

The lies about and distortion about Ralph Milliband, published in the Daily Mail as a part of its smear campaign to discredit his son Labour Party leader and possible future Prime Minister Ed Milliband marked for many a new low in British politics and the press. Many, even many staunch Conservatives, felt the Daily Mail had gone over the line of what is acceptable in British politics. It was an attack based on an out of context adolescent observation by a man who served his adopted country valiantly in the war and went on to be one of the most respected academics of the post-war period, respected by people across the political spectrum. Like a majority of the British, he despised the class system and he wanted the reform or abolition of many British institutions, as too does the Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail hates most of those institutions that have truly made Britain great - like the welfare state, the NHS and the BBC and the public sector generally. It may perhaps have outgrown the anti-semitism which in the 1930s made it praise the Blackshirts and Hitler (when Ralph Milliband was fleeing from the Nazis and then enlisting to fight them) although its recent backing for French fascist Marine Le Pen suggests otherwise.

The protest at the Daily Mail's Kensington headquarters was organised by The People's Assembly, a nationwide group set up in opposition to the current government's austerity programme and to defend the provision of education, health and welfare from general taxation and available to all.

Several hundred came on a Sunday morning and held a rally opposite one of the entrances to the building. Many carried placards showing they were proud to be a part of the Britain 'Hate By the Daily Mail'. They chanted "NHS, Welfare State, This is what the Mail hates" and "Who told all the lies? Daily Mail, Daily Mail, you told all the lies" and other slogans. One woman sang a song expressing the Daily Mail's view of Britain, with words by Mavis Cook. One verse ran:

'When Hitler's fascist forces
were trampling on the Gypsies and the Jews.
The Rothermere rage was a daily bag
of fascist-friendly racist views'

After around half an hour a rally began, with a short introduction and then a little entertainment by a singer. Two men then delivered the two boxes full of petitions across the road into the Daily Mail offices.The speeches started shortly after with a characteristically powerful one from Owen Jobes. A number of others were waiting to speak, but I had to leave.

protest at the The Daily Mail against its many lies and distortions against the welfare state, the public sector, socialists and trade unionists and minorities and its recent attack on Ralph Milliband.

Owen Jones and other protesters at the The Daily Mail against its lies and distortions against the welfare state, the public sector, socialists and trade unionists and minorities and its recent attack on Ralph Milliband.
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Bring Talha Ahsan Home

Parliament Square, London. Sat 5 Oct 2013

Members of Talha's family were among those at the vigil on the first anniversary of his extradition
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A peaceful vigil in Parliament Square marked a year since British poet Talha Ahsan was extradited to the US. They say his long-term solitary confinement is torture and call for him to be returned home and unjust US-UK extradition laws repealed.

Talha Ahsan, an award-winning British Muslim poet and translator has been detained for over seven years without trial and was extradited to the USA on 5th October 2012 with his co-defendant Babar Ahmad. Although he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, the Home Secretary Teresa May refused to prevent his extradition, unlike that of Gary McKinnon, raising suspicions that this relected an anti-Muslim predjudice.

Like other cases this was a cause of controversy over the 2003 US-UK Extradition Treaty. Talha, along with co-defendant Babar Ahmad, is accused over association with the obsolete Azzam websites from 1997-2002 which covered Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Their supporters have always argued that they are British citizens who have had no connection with the USA and that they should be tried in the UK for any crimes they are alleged to have committed.

Talha is now in pre-trial solitary confinement in a Connecticut Supermax prison, held under conditions that have been described by the UN as torture.

His younger brother Hamja Ahsan, leader of the campaign for his release, made the following statement today:

“We remember Talha today so that tomorrow no more British families will be subject to this ordeal.”

“The nightmare of extradition became a reality exactly one year ago today - Talha has been a year in pre-trial solitary confinement. It has been a terrifying ordeal for our entire family - with no contact allowed in such an extreme isolation prison regime, meaning our mother cannot even hug her own son. Talha could have received a trial in the UK if our rotten and unjust extradition laws were amended in time and in line with the recommendations of the Human Rights Select Committees and the guidelines of Liberty. We still hold out hope for Talha’s repatriation – bring Talha home!”

“Caroline Lucas MP recently paid tribute to our family’s ‘persistence and courage’ in Parliament, warning that the extradition would alienate the hundreds of thousands of people who participated in the national campaigns for Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad.”

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UK Uncut Road Block for Legal Aid

Old Bailey & Royal Courts of Justice, London. Sat 5 Oct 2013

Disabled and their supporters chained themselves across the zebra crossing at the Royal Courts of Justice
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UK Uncut marched from the Old Bailey to the Royal Courts of Justice, where wheelchairs and protesters blocked the road and a trial found Justice Secretary Chris Grayling guilty of perverting the course of justice for his proposed cuts to Legal Aid.

Protesters gathered outside the Old Bailey, an appropriate venue for a protest against the governments proposals which look set to demolish a vital part of our justice system, Legal Aid. The proposals will mean that justice becomes largely only available to the very rich, with one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Legal Aid currently enables people without personal fortunes to fight unjust arrests, to challenge incorrect decisions by councils and much more. It isn't a perfect system, but does at least provide some justice for the poor, which will in many cases disappear under the government's proposals.

We hung around for a while wondering when something was going to happen, and were joined by a samba band before finally marching off behind a banner reading 'No Justic No Peace'. Behind the banner was the samba band, as well as a woman dressed as a judge with a legal wig and Lee Jasper riding his bike and blowing a plastic horn. Following them were a hundred or two supporters, including a small group in black with face masks and at the rear a police van.

Reaching Ludgate Circus the march went up Fleet Street and I realised the likely destination was the Royal Courts of Justice. I rushed ahead of the march to find my guess confirmed as a number of wheelchairs were just making their way across the pedestrian crossing outside the court. They stopped on it and began to padlock together to form a block. The far half of the crossing was blocked by a line of figures dressed in gold, one holding the (plastic) Sword of Justice, and another her Scales.

The road was fully blocked by the time the march arrived, with a tourist bus stopped just behind the wheelchairs, its passengers getting a grandstand view of one of London's more interesting sights, with the road soon covered by sitting protesters.

The band made a lot of noise, the protesters chanted, and police came and told them politely that blocking the highway was an offence, asking if they would move. They took no notice.

After a lengthy period of protest, the trial of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was announced, and the court took its place in front of the central island, with Judege, clerk to the court, prosecuting and defence counsel and a man wearing the dock around his waist and a mask with Grayling's face.

There were several witnesses, some giving testimony of how without Legal Aid they would have been unable to fight their cases, and others reading written testimony from others. We were then told we were the jury and would now have some time to consider our verdict. That time was filled with some more drumming and chanting, with some poetry from Sam Berkson and some legal advice.
The police were still making occasional attempts to get the protesters to move, and warning people they might face arrest if they continued to block the highway. Eventually most people moved from the carriageway further from the court so that traffic might use that, although it was still blocked by the police van.

The trial continued to its inevitable guilty verdict, although there seemed to be no agreement about a suitably severe punishement, most of those suggested no longer being avaialable under UK law. The prisoner was led away (though unfortunately only to the pub opposite rather than prison) and the protest continued noisily, still blocking the road.

By this time, the police who had showed admirable patience were beginning to get a little more insistent. The DPAC activists in wheelchairs who were still blocking the road consulted with each other and decided it was time to leave, and that they would have a final five minutes of protest and then all leave together. It had been a succesful protest and had gone without a hitch.
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Support South African Shack-Dwellers

South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, London. Thur 3 Oct 2013
Protesters call for the release of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) Secretary General Bandile Mdlalose
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Protesters at South Africa House showed their solidarity with South African shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, a partner organisation of War on Want, after the shooting by police of its members and the arrest of its Secretary General.

Earlier this week, South African Police shot dead a 17 year old girl, Nqobile Nzuza and arrested the Secretary General of War on Want partner, Abahlali baseMjondolo, (AbM) Bandile Mdlalose.

Nqobile Nzuza, a girl aged 17, was shot twice from behind at 5am on Monday 30 September, and two other women who were also shot are in hospital. They were protesting against their forcible removal from their homes on vacant municipal land where they had settled after a previous forced removal from their homes at Cato Crest near Durban 8 months ago.

Two other Cata Crest members of AbM at Cato Crest were assassinated by gunmen earlier this year in an incident allegedly linked to the local ANC councillor. Others are still in critical condition in hospitals after being shot by law-enforcement officials during protests.

As in the shooting of the Marikana miners, the police claim that the shootings of the unarmed protesters were carried out in self-defence, in what locals say were peaceful protests in which no police suffered any injuries.

The shack dwellers had named their new settlement on council land 'Marikana' after the miners' shooting.

Bandile Mdlalose, general secretary of AbM is a mother with 3 children, and was arrested when on her way to offer her condolences to the family of the dead girl. She has been refused bail.

AbM is the largest shack dweller's organization in South Africa and is a grass roots movement campaigning to improve the living conditions of the poor. Its key demand is that the social value of land should take priority over its commercial value and it campaigns for public expropriation of large private land holdings. It refuses to take part in party politics, boycotting elections and has been subjected to a long campaign of llegal harassment by the state, with over 200 arrests of its members over the last three years and many incidents of police brutality in homes, streets and when under arrest.
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Cops off Campus- Royal Holloway

Royal Holloway College, Egham, Surrey. Wed 2 Oct 2013

Protesters with the main college building behind them

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Students protested after heavy-handed policing by a large group of police at Royal Holloway Students' Union last Friday when a student who challenged the racial profiling by police was jumped on, manhandled by 7 police and held for 16 hours.

Surrey police have come under attack for their activities in conducting a raid on the students' union, when there was no information that any criminal or untoward activities were taking place. According the a statement from the university management, the police action, with over 15 officers, both uniformed and plain clothes taking part, as well as sniffer dogs and the student union's own security staff, was a routine exercise in drugs awareness and education at their invitation. If so it appears to have got very much out of hand.

Royal Holloway, its original building a copy of a French chateau provided from a Victorian fortune made selling pills of no medicinal value, is situated in Englefield Green, a leafy part of Surrey on the outer fringes of London, not far from Wentworth golf club and Virginia Water. It is probably the cleanest campus in the country so far as drugs are concerned. Entry to events at the student union requires a student card.

Police were invited into the student union to make the raid by the university authorities on the first big night of the year for freshers, and once there started to harass and intimidate students, picking in particular on black and minority ethnic students who they stopped and searched. Students alleged to me that this was not the first occasion on which Surrey police have appeared to be racially profiling but that it was a matter of routine when stopping and searching students on or near the campus; one black student described to me how having been stopped and searched by an officer in a police car he was stopped again only five minutes later by the second officer in the same car.

University of London Union Vice President Daniel Cooper was present in the student union during the police drugs raid, and tried to challenge what he saw as their racial profiling. He wrote on Facebook: "I intervened in and obstructed a stop and search of two black students. Not liking this the cops proceeded to tackle me to the floor, 6 or 7 pinning me down for some time and then arrest me."

An eye witness commented: "My comrade Daniel objected when they started targeting and harassing specifically black students and was arrested and detained for doing so." Daniel was held for 16 hours before being released.

The students recognise that police have the right to carry out operations on campus, and in particular to act on information concerning crimes. But they have to do so in a legal and correct manner rather than come in force to harass, threaten and intimidate students, and should certainly not act in a racially discriminatory fashion.

The students demand that Royal Holloway University Management and the Commercial Services team should not invite the police onto campus to carry out 'exercises' of this type without the prior knowledge and consent of the elected student body. They also want investigations by police on campus to be carried out in a proportionate and legal manner.

Students held a small low-key protest today on campus, collecting signatures for a petition and to remind the university of its duty of care towards the students. They say that inviting "the police in to parade around, harass and worst of all racial profile directly contravenes this duty. We want to feel safe but whoever it is that make us feel unsafe, including the police we need to speak out and let the university know that it will not be tolerated."

No-one I spoke to believed there is a drugs problem at Royal Holloway, but if the university authorities beleive that there is, it would seem elementary that they should engage with the students' union and the elected representatives of the student body in taking appropriate measures. To bring in the police - even if the police could be persuaded to behave appropriately - without consultation is surely counterproductive and seems ill-advised in the extreme.
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2013; to buy prints or for permission to reproduce pictures or to comment on this site, or for any other questions, contact me.

my london diary index

October 2013

Russia, Free Greenpeace Arctic 30
Protest Against Colombian 'Vulture of Death
Cleaners Invade John Lewis Oxford Street
Gurkhas Hunger Strike for Justice
United Families & Friends Remember Killed
3 Cosas Defy London Uni Protest Ban
Southall Black Sisters Protest Racist UKBA
Climate Deniers told 'Frack Off'
Justice for Cleaners Protest
Fossil-Free London Lobby Tour
Chinatown Says 'No Entry UKBA'
Movement Against Xenophobia
Vigil at Work Assessments Appeal
Make Caste Discrimination Illegal Now
Don't Be Blind to DR Congo Murders
Global Frackdown: Lord Browne resign!
Stop Shipping Tear Gas to Bahrain
Anti-Slavery Day Sinai Torture Protest
Teachers March against Government Plans
Letting Agencies Illegal Colour Bar
Vigil for Shaker Aamer
Cannabis Hypocrisy Protest
Gurkha Veterans Demand Justice
Police & Developers Evict Soho Working Girls
Scrap Royal London NHS PFI Debt
Don't Gag Free Speech
PMOI call for release of 7 Hostages in Iraq
EgyptFor & Against Muslim Brotherhood
Freedom for Ocalan & Kurdistan
Daily Mail You Told All the Lies
Bring Talha Ahsan Home
UK Uncut Road Block for Legal Aid
Support South African Shack-Dwellers
Cops off Campus- Royal Holloway


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