Walks around Staines
Staines, Runnymede, Chertsey etc. 24-28 Dec 2013
And we walked through a little bit of America on Boxing
My elder son came to stay with us over Christmas and as usual we went out
for a number of walks together, and I was carrying my Fuji X-Pro 1 and took
a few pictures. It wasn't always great walking weather, and we had to avoid
some of the paths that flood easily and occasionally had to wade through some
fairly deep puddles. One day it was raining so much that I stayed home while
the others went for a walk. Most of the other days I took a few (and on one
occasion rather a lot) of family pictures, which I won't post here, as well
as eating and drinking too much.
On Christmas Eve Sam and I walked along the section
of the former railway line from Staines to West Drayton just north of the
Staines bypass, then tried to go on to Staines Moor from Moor Lane, but found
the path was badly flooded. I also found when I got home that I'd applied
some unexpected diffusion to a part of all the pictures with an unnoticed
finger print on the front of the lens. On Boxing Day
we all walked from Staines to Egham and then though the woods on Cooper's
Hill to Old Windsor for lunch. A couple of days later there was a rare
fine day and we walked from Staines to Thorpe, across the M3 and M25 and
up St Ann's Hill and then down into Chertsey.
Reinstate Colombian Mayor Petro
Colombian Embassy, London. Tue 17 Dec 2013
The protest started opposite the embassy in the
rain. Later it rained more.
Colombians and other Latin Americans protested opposite the Colombian
embassy in last night's rain demanding the reinstatement of the Mayor of Bogotá,
Gustavo Petro, whose removal threatens the political left and the democratic
process in Colombia.
The protesters say that the decision by the Colombian Attorney General Alejandro
Ordóñez to remove the Mayor and ban him from holding public
office for 15 years shows that the Colombian government is backing the interests
of private capital and denying democracy in the country. It calls into question
the whole participation of the political left and democratic forces in playing
a part in the peaceful transformation of the country through elections.
Gustavo Petro is one of the leading figures in Colombian politics,
and as Mayor of Bogota is often seen as holding Colombia's second most important
elected office. The ban came after he had attempted to get the city to take
over its waste collections from private companies, which Ordóñez
said was a violation of free-market principles.
The ban comes as peace talks continue in Havana between guerrillas of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which seemed likely to be about
to reach a successful conclusion, but is seen a a serious blow to the chances
of reaching a settlement, which very much depends on FARC and opposition parties
being given effective guarantees over their participation in democracy in
Ordóñez is one of the fiercest opponents of the peace process.
Petro has made it clear that he does not want his ban to hold up the search
for a peace settlement, and is widely seen as a possible future left candidate
for the presidency. There have been protests in Colombia against the ban,
and it seems likely that even were the current appeals to fail, if the country
returns to open democracy and peace he will be an important figure in its
Petro, a former guerilla who gave up fighting for politics in the 1980s,
remains in office pending the result of his appeal against the ban, and has
attracted considerable support, even from many opposed to his policies, who
see the sentence as excessive for what was a minor mistake in admimistration.
The ban is seen by many as being more about his other actions, such as the
banning of bull-fighting and support of same-sex marriages, which have angered
right-wing conservatives such as Ordóñez.
The evening protest in London took place in rain, at times heavy which perhaps
kept down attendance, though others were still arriving when I left around
an hour after the protest had been timed to start. A police officer came over
to talk to the protesters, asking if they would make less noise, and after
a lengthy and good-natured discussion they agreed to do so. They suggested
that they could protest more effectively but cause less disturbance to the
neighbours if they were allowed to protest on the pavement outside the embassy
rather than across the street, which seemed a reasonable suggestion, but one
that was not acceptable to police.
The protest was called by the Movement of Colombian Migration in London and
supported by many other Latin American organisations in London and elsewhere.
It was continuing as I left, and I arrived late for my next meeting, having
been held up in heavy traffic. London by bus in a rainy evening rush-hour
is impossible, it would have been quicker (but much wetter) to walk.
Harrods & IRA Bomb Victims Memorial
Harrods, Knightsbridge, London. Tue 17 Dec 2013
Four (or five?) tourists take pictures of Harrods at
I was early for the Colombian protest which wasn't running to English time
and had time to walk around the block and take a few pictures as some of them
arrived and got themselves sorted out. On the east side of the building there
are two memorials, one for police and the other for civilians, who were killed
by the IRA bomb here on 17th December 1983, exactly 30 years ago. Around them
on the anniversary were flowers.
It was around 5.15pm and tourists and shoppers were still filling the streets
around Harrods. On a traffic island in the Brompton Rd were at least half
a dozen with their cameras held up, and when one left another took her (or
his) place. I could only fit four into my picture, one with a phone and three
with cameras. I'm the fifth.
I walked around slowly, taking a few pictures (including one with 20 Big Bens)
as the rain got steadily thicker, arriving back at the Colombian embassy half
an hour after the protest was supposed to start. A couple of minutes later
it really did.
Vigil for Chelsea (Bradley) Manning
St Martins, Trafalgar Square, London. Tue 17 Dec 2013
Santa hands out leaflets calling for the release of
A vigil on the steps of St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square marked
the birthday of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, jailed for 35 years for
exposing US war crimes.
The 35 year sentence imposed on Chlesea Manning (formerly Bradley
Manning) for copying US government e-mails to Wikileaks was clearly intended
to deter other whistleblowers who might have have evidence of US war crimes,
The sentence is considerably harsher than those imposed on soldioers found
guilty of rape, murder and other war crimes.
Manning did the free world a service by disclosing details of mureder by
US helicotpers in Iran, the cover-up of rapes in Afghanistan, drone strikes,
US 'dirty tricks' in Haiti, Venezuala nad elsewhere, and other war crimes
and behind the scenes manipulation.
Manning is not the only 'whistle-blower' to find themselves in trouble. The
leaflet being handed out by Payday men's network and Queer Strike who organised
the vigil also reminded people about several others. Julian Assange has been
locked away in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since July 2012; Edward Snowden
is in Russia where he fled after releasing large amounts of information to
newspapers; Jeremy Hammond was stitched up by the FBI and jailed for ten years
in 2011 after his hacking exposed the use of paid informants by intelligence
contractors Stratfor, and US journalist Barrett Brown, also linked with backed
information on Stratfor has been gagged by the Federal Court and faces over
100 years in prison.
Staines, Spelthorne. Sun 15 Dec 2013
Bonehead Ditch - we crossed it on a fallen tree (not
the one in the picture)
It was starting to get dark and raining slightly as we came out for a walk
on Sunday afternoon. I'd only brought a camera because I wanted to try out
my new 14mm Fuji-X lens - these were made with it on the X-Pro1. It makes
it feel a better camera than the 18-55 zoom or non-Fuji lenses on adaptors.
But it doesn't stop the photographer making a mess of things, and I took
most of the pictures on too slow a shutter speed as I wasn't paying attention
and left the ISO at 400 even though it was very dark. So all of these were
taken with the lens wide open at f2.8, and when I stood still enough they
are bitingly sharp. Plenty of depth of field with the 14mm (21mm equiv) lens.
Against PayDay Loans and Austerity
Brixton, London. Sat 14 Dec 2013
'David Cameron' figure about to strangle a woman with
an Eton Boys poster
After protests in Eltham, Orpington, Lewisham and Wandsworth in the People's
Assembly National Day of Action against the increasing dependence of millions
on pay day loans and high interest credit, some came to Brixton to sing alternative
Around 30 of those who had been protesting in local town centres in the morning
came along for the protest in Windrush Square organised by South East London
People's Assembly. This group has a "plain and simple goal: to make
the government abandon its austerity programme. If it will not, it must be
replaced with one that will."
A number of the protesters were members of Disabled People Against Cuts,
which has several strong groups in the London area. Among them was Paula Peters,
who made a powerful speech against the government policies which are pushing
many into extreme poverty by cutting benefits. Along with failures and breakdowns
in the welfare system - some undoubtedly deliberate - these are forcing many
to have to rely on food banks to avoid starvation and to choose between eating
Paula has lost eighteen friends who have died before their time because of
the cuts and the complete failure of millionaires in the cabinet to understand
the precarious position of the low paid, unemployed and others who rely on
regular payment of their benefits to survive. Loss of benefits because of
an unfair ATOS test has been the final straw for far too many and food banks
are overstretched because of administrative failures over paying benefits,
and far too many arbitrary sanctions imposed on claimants, often as a failure
to properly read or check paperwork.
Some of the mistakes get sorted, appeals against Atos testing are very often
allowed, but sometimes by the time this happens it is too late for those affected.
If you lose benefit or have it unreasonably reduced and can't afford fuel
bills you have a far too high chance of death from hypothermia.
After the speeches everyone sang some alternative Christmas carols with new
words to the traditional tunes from Mavis Cookm James Pettefar & Holly
Teal of the South East London People's Assembly. Among my favourites was Poverty
and Wealth (to the tune of: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen”) with
For the rich there is comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
But there’s little left for those that you employ
and 'Hark! The Evil Bankers Sin'. But perhaps what stood out most was Tory
Hell (To the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’) with its chorus:
Tory hell, Tory hell
It’s always the same;
And someone else to blame
Tory hell, big cartels
Free market insane;
Blame it on the immigrants
That’s the Tories’ game.
and the revised version of 'We wish you a Merry Christmas' which summed up
the position of many with 'We just can’t afford Christmas, It’s
been a tough year!'
'Elf Not Wealth' Anonymous Event
Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 14 Dec 2013
A woman sitting on a mobility scooter gives a double
'Anons' met with bags of good, coats, hats and scarves in Trafalgar Square
to walk among West End Xmas shoppers and give gifts to the homeless on the
streets as a gesture against government austerity measures and corruption
and corporate greed.
Most of those present when I met them in Trafalgar Square were carrying large
bags of warm clothes and wearing 'Anonymous' masks. They had come to this
'family friendly, peaceful Christmas themed march' to give gifts to people
on the streets and were intending to sing alternative Christmas carols while
marching along Oxford St.
Heritage wardens in Trafalgar Square came over to question the protesters,
but left when they were told that they did not intend to protest there but
were just meeting up. I had to leave while they were still in Trafalgar Square,
waiting for some who had gone to take some of the warm clothing they had brought
to a a nearby centre for young people.
Hunger Strike for Sikh Freedom
Indian High Commission, London. Sat 14 Dec 2013
A man on hunger strike studies scripture under a Sikh
Sikhs camped outside the Indian High Commission in Aldwych on a 5 day
hunger strike in solidarity with that of Gurbaksh Singh, on hunger strike
since Nov 14th over the continued detention of Sikh political prisoners who
have served their full sentence.
Sikh interests were sidelined at the partition of the Indian subcontinent
at the end of British rule in 1947, and although promises were made about
their fair treatment. Although only around 2% of the Indian population are
Sikh, they are the majority in the Indian state of Punjab. At partition, most
of the Sikhs who were living in the part of Punjab that was to be incorporated
in Pakistan moved to India.
Sikhs since independence (along with other meteorites) have been subject
to continued persecution, most notably in the 1984 invasion of the Golden
Temple at Amritsar and the subsequent massacres and riots. The following years
saw a ruthless campaign of suppression against Sikhs in favour of greater
autonomy and in particular against those campaigning for an independent Sikh
state, Khalistan, some of whom were involved in a military insurgency.
Many in the Punjab were arrested, and some given long jail sentences. At
least six of those who have served the full term of their sentences are still
being held more than five years later, with the Indian government refusing
to release them. Others are held for years without ever getting to trial.
On November 14th, 2013 Gurbaksh Singh at Gurdwara Amb Sahib in Mohali began
a hunger strike to publicise the continued detention and seek the release
of Sikh prisoners. There was huge support for him across the Punjab, and from
Sikh organisations around the world, although not from some Sikh leaders.
On Friday Dec 6th, Gurbaksh Singh was arrested in a midnight raid by Punjab
Police, then taken to hospital before being taken to jail. On Monday 9th Dec
he was released on bail in Chandigarh and returned to the Gurdwara Amb Sahib
to continue his fasting.
In the UK, the The Sikh Organisation for Prisoners Welfare decided to have
a group hunger strike in support of Gurbaksh Singh, with a relay of hunger
strikers on liquids only for 12 or 24 hour periods for the month of December.
The hunger strikers in London have gained further inspiration from the example
of Nelson Mandela who spent much of his life behind bars and was called a
terrorist for standing up for freedom and against injustice and persecution.
The FSO (Federation of Sikh Organisations) UK have set up a camp outside
the Indian High Commission in Aldwych, and a 5 day hunger strike by a small
group began there on Tuesday. When I visited and took these pictures, the
hunger strikers had another two hours to complete and were in good spirits,
with a number of supporters also present, and more expected to arrive in time
to celebrate the end of the five days. Others there told me that there may
be other groups continuing 5 day hunger strikes there.
Hizb ut-Tahrir Spokesman held in Pakistan
Pakistan High Commission, London. Sat 14 Dec 2013
Men listen to the speeches calling for the release of
Naveed Butt and an Islamic Khilifat for Pakistan
Muslim men and women took part in a Hizb ut-Tahrir UK protest at the
Pakistan High Commission in Lowndes Square calling for the release of the
Pakistan Huzb ut-Tahri spokesman Naveed Butt, abducted and held in secret
by Pakistan security services since 11 May 2012.
Butt was bringing his children home from school on 11 May, and according
to his his wife, as he reached home, "In front of my three innocent
children and neighbours, they dragged him from the car and placed him in the
typical white Suzuki high roof van used by ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence
- the Pakistani security agency] and then ran away."
There were protests in the following days in Pakistan and abroad, including
in London, and legal actions which led to the security services being demanded
to present him at the Lahore High court. They failed to do so, claiming that
they knew nothing about his abduction, and his whereabouts are still unknown.
According to one of the speakers, Naveed Butt was appointed as spokesman
when Hizb ut-Tahrir first began its operations in Pakistan in 1999, and from
then until his abduction was tirelessly calling for a strong Islamic Khilifat
(caliphate) to replace the existing weak and corrupt regimes in Pakistan,
as well as opposing the routing of supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan
Hizb ut-Tahrir believes in the power of thought and argument to convince
people of the need for change; "thoughts" as one speaker said "can
be more explosive than guns, more explosive than bullets, more explosive than
Semtex." They reject also the Western-style democracy that backs
Pakistan's weak and corrupt ruling elites, believing the superior thought
of Islam and the unity of the Ummah will bring about a popular Islamic uprising
and install a just and accountable Khilifat.
Under the regime of former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf (currently
summoned to appear in court on a charge of high treason), Hizb ut-Tahrir was
put on a list of illegal organisations because of its alleged terrorist connections.
When they tried to challenge this in the courts, the government simply failed
to come and contest the case; although the listing still stands, Hizb ut-Tahrir
continues to function in Pakistan.
Rather than enforce this ban (which might not stand up in court), the security
services resorted to more direct methods, with General Kiyani (who retired
last month) allegedly ordering the ISI to carry out a series of kidnappings
and the secret detention of Hizb ut-Tahrir members including Butt over his
years in office (he retired last month.) The protest called for the release
of all those detained by the security services.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has repeatedly accused Kiyana of being a stooge of the US,
and they demanded an end to all military co-operation and logistic support
of US and NATO forces by Pakistan.
The protest outside the Pakistani High Commission in Lowndes Square in London's
Knightsbridge was attended by around 200 people, around a third of whom were
women who stood as a group behind the men. In front of the men, facing the
embassy were large orange banners with the messages ‘Free Naveed
Butt: Call for real change for Pakistan, and ‘Pakistan needs
real change: Pakistan needs Khilafat’. The event began with a recitation
from the Quran, and after speeches by a number of men, including Dr Imran
Waheed and Mazhar Khan from Hizb ut-Tahrir.
There were some loud chants against the US, against traitors in the government
and calling for the Khilafat now, and at one point the protesters turned down
their loudspeakers after complaints from some of the neighbours. There was
absolutely no sign of life inside the High Commission, although the green
flag with its white crescent and star was flying outside. The protest ended
peacefully with the prayer that Allah bring his help and victory soon.
Cops Off Campus National Student Protest
University of London. Wed 11 Dec 2013
One of the clown army mimes taking a picture of me
Police appeared to ignore todays large student protest today at the University
of London, which passed off largely peacefully, with just a token breaking
down of the gates of Senate House as protesters marched around and into the
I was suprised as I arrived early for the protest not too see police vans
parked in any of the nearby roads, which had been full of them for last Friday's
emergency protest by students about police brutality in eviction the Senate
House occupiers on Wednesday and a further protest over the 16 arrests on
Thursday. Then police clearly had clearly set out to intimidate the students,
but the tactic failed, with police failing to keep up with the protesters.
Last weeks incidents - with over 40 arrests - came after a number of other
events both in London and elsewhere, particularly at Sussex University, where
university management have called police onto the campus or gone to the courts
to prevent or oppose student protests or apparently to harass students. At
London University there are two major causes for student protest, the intention
of the management to close down the University of London Union and the managements
opposition to a living wage and decent conditions of employment - sick pay,
holiday pay and pensions - for the low paid workers on campus. The '3 Cosas'
campaign for the rights of these workers has united students and workers at
all levels across the University.
I was with today's protest for around an hour and a half, and it appeared
to have come to its conclusion when I left, with students sitting down outside
SOAS and some dancing to the samba band. During that time I had not seen a
single uniformed officer, though there were several I suspect of being undercover
police in the large crowd of protesters.
It was a large crowd, as this was a well-advertised national protest, and
it was too big to accurately estimate, perhaps several thousand. After the
arrival of a crowd marching from nearby SOAS, there were speeches on Malet
St outside the ULU, including from ULU President Michael Chessum and Vice-President
Daniel Cooper, Sonia Chura from the '3 Cosas', Chris Baugh, Assistant General
Secretary of the PCS, one of the Sussex students whose suspenison was lifted
yesterday and several others.
The protesters then marched off down Malet St, at their front a 'Book Bloc'
carrying large backed polystyrene foam shields with book titles, including
George Orwell's '1984', particularly appropriate as the Senate House is said
to have inspired Orwell's 'Ministry of Truth', and alongside it were Mandela's
Long Walk to Freedom, Mary Woolstonecraft's 'A Vindication of the Rights of
Women', E P Thompson's 'The Making of the English Working Class' and other
When the march reached the east gates to Senate House in Russell Square the
protesters stopped outside them, and after a few minutes the protesters carrying
the giant books and some of the black bloc pushed forwards to the gates. They
put the books up against the gates and then put their weight behind them,
pushing them forward time and time again. A couple of protesters got over
the gates and started to pull from the other side to help. Eventually the
gates or their chains gave way, the gates opened and protesters surged forwards
into the car park.
Inside, some made their way to the doors of the Senate House, which were
locked, while others moved rubbish bins and temporary fences to clear a way
After a few minutes the students made their way back to Russell Square and
continued the march. The only damage appeared to be to the gates. The invasion
was merely a gesture, and perhaps a question to the management. Why does a
university need locked gates around its buildings?
The marchers continue up Thornhaugh St and then across into Torrington Square
and down towards SOAS. For a while it looked as if they might go back to the
Senate House, but then most or all of them moved towards SOAS, where the samba
band was playing and sat down, stood around or danced.
Human Rights Day Candlelit Vigil for Syria
Syrian Embassy, Belgrave Square, London. Tue 10 Dec 2013
hold candles at the vigil on the pavement in front of the embassy
On the evening of International Human Rights Day, the Syria Peace &
Justice group held a candlit vigil at the Syrian Embassy, calling for an urgent
end to conflict to address the desperate humanitarian situation there.
The vigil aimed to raise awareness of the desperate situation in Syria, and
to call for:
- All Syrian and foreign parties to urgently address the desperate humanitarian
situation and end all human rights abuses without further violence;
- All foreign actors to stop fuelling the conflict through supplies of arms
and ammunition, troops and military financing;
- An inclusive, Syrian-led peace process;
- Political prisoners and arbitrarily-detained persons on all sides to be
- The UK and other countries to accept their fair share of refugees;
Full accountability for war crimes and other human rights violations committed
by all sides.
Those taking part wanted to express their solidarity with Syrian activists
working non-violently for peace, freedom, human rights and social justice
Against Sex Segregation in Universities
Tavistock Square, London. Tue 10 Dec 2013
Maryam Namazie holds a poster at the event
A rally at the Universities UK office opposed their guidance, supported
by the NUS, that forced segregation of men and women in audiences at university
talks by visiting speakers is not discriminatory if both sexes are treated
in the same way.
The protest on International Human Rights Day at against the guidance was
supported by many activist groups and campaigners for equality and the speakers
were expected to include Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, Maryam Namazie
from Fitnah and One Law for All, Anne-Marie Waters of the National Secular
Society, Julie Bindel of Justice for Women and Erin Saltman from the Quilliam
Foundation, as well as comedian Kate Smurthwaite.
The petition against the guidance has already attracted around 8,000 signatures
including A C Grayling, Peter Tatchell, Polly Toynbee and Richard Dawkins
among the initial signatories. It includes the statment:
We, the undersigned, condemn the endorsement of gender apartheid by
Universities UK. Any form of segregation, whether by race, sex or otherwise
is discriminatory. Separate is never equal and segregation is never applied
to those who are considered equal. By justifying segregation, Universities
UK sides with Islamist values at the expense of the many Muslims and others
who oppose sex apartheid and demand equality between women and men.
Around a hundred people turned up for the protest and listened to the speeches
in a dark area at the north end of Tavistock Square. Many were from humanist,
atheist or secular groups, as well as campaigners for women's rights, and
the speeches I heard were for equality and against any concessions to particular
religious beliefs, particularly those that were clearly irrational.
Human Rights Day Pilgrimages for Syria
London, Tue 10 Dec 2013
Pilgrims outside the US Embassy
On International Human Rights Day, a Peace Pilgrimage for Syria visited
the key embassies of Russia, Israel, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, France and China
and Downing St and the Foreign Office on the way to a vigil at the Syrian
The Peace Pilgrimage for Syria was organised by the Syria Peace & Justice
group and was split into two groups, one starting at the UN High Commission
for Refugees office in the Strand, and the other in Kensington. Between the
two groups they walked to visit the embassies and offices of the most important
countries and bodies involved in the Syrian conflict.
The aim of the pilgrimage was to raise awareness of the desperate situation
in Syria, and to call for:
- All Syrian and foreign parties to urgently address the desperate humanitarian
situation and end all human rights abuses without further violence;
- All foreign actors to stop fuelling the conflict through supplies of
arms and ammunition, troops and military financing;
- An inclusive, Syrian-led peace process;
- Political prisoners and arbitrarily-detained persons on all sides to be
- The UK and other countries to accept their fair share of refugees;
- Full accountability for war crimes and other human rights violations committed
by all sides.
They also wanted to express their solidarity with Syrian activists working
non-violently for peace, freedom, human rights and social justice in Syria.
Both groups were small during the early afternoon, with a few more joining
them at the US embassy bringing the total up to around 20. Between them before
reaching Grosvenor Square the deputations had visited the Russia, Israel,
Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, France, China, Russian, Israeli, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Iranian,
French and Chinese embassies on their way to the US embassy, and had been
able to leave their letter calling for an end to the Syrian conflict in person
at some of them. Others had suggested that they post it, claiming that acception
letters posed a security threat, while a few simply failed to answer their
doors, or promised to take the letter but left the group waiting on the steps
and failed to do so. Their statement had also been delivered to the UNHCR
offices in the Strand, 10 Downing St and the Foreign and Commonwealth offices.
After a short meeting to discuss progress, a group of the protesters held
a brief protest outside the front of the embassy reading out ther statement
calling for a just end top the conflict in Syria and an end to foreign interference.
I left the 'pilgrims' at the US embassy, frome where they were going to take
their message to the Qatari, Saudi, German and Turkish embassies on their
way to the Syrian embassy where a candlelit vigil had been planned. The Turkish
embassy had promised to they would hold a meeting with a small group.
Tibetans Walk Backwards for Human Rights
Westminster, London. Sat 7 Dec 2013
march backwards from Old Palace Yard to Downing St past the Houses of Parliament
Tibetans and the supporters walked backwards in protest to highlight
the deteriorating situation in Tibet and to show their anger and disgust at
China being given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council despite its human
rights abuses in Tibet.
Last month the UN general assembly filled 14 vacant seats on the UN Human
Rights Council and among the new members were several with appalling domestic
human rights records, most notably China. China has repeatedly denied UN human
rights inspectors access to the country and since it applied to join in the
summer has further restricted internet access, imprisoned numerous human rights
campaigners and tightened its already draconian security measures in Tibet.
As well as its own terrible human rights record, China has also voted at the
UN against resolutions over human rights violation in other countries, including
Sudan, Iran, Syria and North Korea.
Since the invasion of Tibet in 1959, China has carried out a systematic programme
to eliminate Tibetan culture, attempting to get rid of the Tibetan language
and religion and killing 1.2m Tibetans through imprisonment, torture, starvation
and executions. Many of the monasteries have been closed down, and severe
restrictions placed on the activities of monks and nuns. Some Tibetans allege
that some of the remaining monasteries are retained only as tourist attractions,
with soldiers dressed as monks. A UN report in 2008 concluded that the use
of torture was widespread and routine.
China has carried out vast settlement programmes in Tibet, giving incentives
to Han Chinese migrants to settle in Tibet, resulting in Tibetans becoming
a small minority in many areas. Tibetans are required to wave Chinese flags
at government organised cultural events.
In September this year a Tibetan man, Dayang, shouted out Tibetan freedom
slogans at a culture show at Driru Dzong, and along with others was arrested.
Tibetans were ordered to fly Chinese flags on their houses on October 1, the
National Day, and those who failed to do so were arrested. Other Tibetans
marched to the police station to protest, and police opened fire on the unarmed
crowd, killing 4 and wounding over 60. Dayang was badly injured by torture
and beatings and sentenced to two and a half years in jail. Tibetans in the
area had their mobile phones confiscated and internet access denied, and the
area was placed under martial law, with armed police monitoring movements
and checking identity documents, making some 40,000 Tibetans in the area virtually
prisoners in their own homes.
Driven to desperation, over 130 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in Tibet.
One of the cases highlighted by the protesters was that of Dolma Kyab, whose
wife Kunchok Wangmo died when she set fire to herself on 11 March 2013. The
following day he was arrested and charged with her murder, and after being
interrogated and tortured was sentenced to death in August.
The protesters were handing out a flyer urging people to e-mail their MPs,
MEPs and the President of the UN Human Rights Council to get the council and
the EU to put pressure on China to review his case and not to execute him.
Many other relatives of the self-immolators have been accused of abetting
and encouraging self-immolation and sentenced to terms in prison.
The protesters also expressed their disgust at the recent visit to China
by David Cameron, and his soft-pedalling of the human rights issues in his
bid to increase trade with China. But Tibet has been failed by the rest of
the world since the Chinese Communists first invaded in 1949 and forced the
Tibetans to to sign an agreement with them that eventually led to the Lhasa
uprising and the Chinese takeover in 1959.
Photographers Support Photography
South Bank Centre, London. Sat 7 Dec 2013
A photographer in the skate area in the South Bank undercroft
A group of photographers came to London's South Bank Centre today after
an incident on Tuesday when security guards stopped a photographer photographing
the skateboard area. Later the Southbank Centre tweeted an apology to the
On Tuesday this week, respected documentary photographer Marc Vallée,
a fellow member of the London Photographers' Branch of the NUJ, was stopped
by security guards while photographing the skateboarding area below the London
Southbank Centre. He had just finished photographing tthe area and was taking
a few pictures on his iPhone for Instagram when he was confronted by three
“Being told I could not take pictures with a smartphone was a
truly bizarre experience. I showed my UK Press Card and explained what I
was doing and why. After a surreal exchange of views on photographers’
rights, the guards called the head of security. Around ten minutes later
they walked away without explanation or apology.”
The incident was followed up with a report on the NUJ LPB web site, and tweets
began to fly condemning the action by the security guards. Later in the day
the Southbank Centre tweeted:
“Visitors are welcome to take photos on site. Our temp security
guards did not understand this. Apologies for any inconvenience”
Security guards - even or perhaps especially temporary ones - should be aware
of the attitude of the organisation they are working for to photography in
places open to the public, where generally there are no restrictions on either
photography for personal use or for journalistic purposes, although a licence
may well be required for commercial photography or filming.
It is perhaps another example of the problems of organisations outsourcing
vital functions rather than employing staff themselves. The security guards
were obviously inadequately trained for the role they were being asked to
perform - not a criticism of the individuals but of the typically poor management
of outsourcing companies, of which there has been many well publicised examples
in the past years. Probably the workers concerned are ill paid and have poor
work conditions, enabling the companies who provide them to make large profits.
The skateboarding area is controversial, with the Southbank Centre management
wanting to close it down despite it attracting many visitors who come to watch
and take photographs. They want to use the area for more restuarants and shops
which will provide an income.
The Undercroft area has been used by skateboarders for over 40 years, becoming
known as the birthplace of British skateboarding and has been the breeding
area for some of the world's best skateboarders and BMX riders as well as
some very talented graffiti artists. It is the oldest recognised and still
existing skateboarding space in the world and many see it as a vital part
of our recent national heritage, and something worth preserving, and there
seem to already be plenty of shops and eating places fleecing the tourists.
A petition on 'Change.org' by 'Long Live Southbank' to save it has so far
attracted over 66,000 signatures.
And while the decorative graffiti on the Undercroft may not be great art,
nor to everyone's taste, it greatly enlivens the rather drab brutalist concrete
'béton brut' that was in architectural vogue when the South Bank centre
was built. This too isn't to everyone's taste, but I think it would be unfortunate
to completely hide it under shopfitter's tat. As the National Theatre nightly
shows, with appropriate lighting it can have a certain magic, and here in
the dimly lit spaces of the Undercroft I think the bright and varied paint
does a grand job too. I'd certainly not trade it in for a row of shops.
There is an alternative area which the Southbank Centre say is being offered
to the skateboarders, but apparently the planning application is not for a
skate area but for something much more general, an arts space, and there is
no guarantee that it would be available for skateboarders in the future. The
campaign to save the Undercroft by 'Long Live South Bank' has received unprecedented
Around 20 people, including a number of professional photographers took up
the offer of Marc Vallée and Long Live Southbank to take an informal
photography walk around the Southbank following the incident and the Southbank
tweet. I was able to join them briefly at the start of the guided tour in
the skate area.
'Cops Off Campus' Protest Police Brutality
Bloomsbury, London. Fri 6 Dec 2013
Students went into UCL when police approached, then decided to head back towards
Police attempted several times to kettle a large group of students protesting
following the forcible removal by police of students occupying the Senate
House yesterday. The students made a tour of university sites in the area
Relations between the University and its students at London University appear
to be at breaking point as the University tries to ban protests on the campus
and brings in large numbers of police. Today there seemed to be police vans
down every side-street in the area as students assembled on the pavement outside
the University of London Union in Malet St.
Today's protest was called after a brutal assault by police on students who
had occupied Senate House for a few hours yesterday, in which a number of
students were arrested, including the Editor of the student newspaper and
a legal observer. That protest had been about the privatision of student fees,
but there are a number of other issues, including the intention of the University
to close down the student union. As well as disputes between university and
students, there are also those between the university and staff who work there,
and in particular the low paid workers - cleaners, security staff and catering
staff - who have been campaigning for several years for a living wage and
also want proper sick pay, holiday pay and pensions. Students and many academic
staff have shown their support for this campaign for three things, the '3
Today's protest was intended to be an entirely peaceful and orderly march
around some of the various sites of the university in the area to the west
and north of Russell Square, but the police seemed to have other ideas.
After a few short addresses outside ULU about yesterday's events and an outline
of what was planned for this protest, the students set off down Malet St to
stop outside the locked gates of Senate House. Here there was a lot of shouting
of 'Cops off Campus!' and a few other slogans. The students then set off intending
to go around the block, but their path was blocked by around 30 police officers
across the constricted end of Malet St. A few students who tried to walk through
the gaps in the line were thrown roughly backwards.
The students turned round an could see another line of police at the other
end of Malet St, as well as more blocking the only side-turning away from
the university campus. They decided to go onto the campus, walking past SOAS
and out onto Thornhaugh St. There they turned up into Woburn Square and then
turned to make their way into UCL, only to find the gates from Torrington
Place were locked and guarded by security. Instead they continued along Gower
St, speeding up when they saw a group of police coming up behind and rushing
There the leaders of the protest held a brief discussion and decided to make
their way through the back streets and return to ULU, rather than let the
police block their exit from UCL. By now they were marching along busy roads
and both they are the police - with officers and vans - were causing some
disruption of traffic.
I'd had enough of walking by now and took a short cut back to arrive back
at about the same time as the students, and watched them going into Torrington
Square in the centre of the university, then decided it was time for me to
I found it hard to see any reason for the large police presence and stopping
them walking into Montague Place as they wanted. It did seem an incredible
and pointless waste of public money, and it resulted in more inconvenience
to the public than if the event had not been policed at all.
Bereaved protest at CPS Failure
Southwark Bridge, London. Fri 6 Dec 2013
Marcia Rigg started her speech with a tribute to Mandela
Families whose loved ones have died in custody protested otuside their
offices in Rose Court at the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to successfully
prosecute police officers and others over the deaths. Since 1990 there have
been 1433 deaths and not a single conviction.
Many of those at the protest were relatives and friends of people who have
died as a result of actions by the police, prison officers or security guards.
None of them have as yet seen justice over these deaths.
There are many other families too in a similar situation, and the great majority
of them are black. The last successful prosecution brought against a police
officer was for involvement in a black death in custody was in 1972, after
the death of David Oluwale in 1969. Police officers have been prosecuted for
several other black deaths in custody - Joy Gardner, Christopher Alder and
Mikey Powell - but none was successful.
Many of the others are still waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service to
make decisions on whether to prosecute those involved. The standard response
from the CPS is that there is ‘not enough evidence to prosecute’,
often because there has not been a proper investigation of the cases from
the start. Often the police involved are simply not questioned, and in some
cases they refuse to answer questions.
Tributes to Mandela
London, Fri 6 Dec 2013
Flowers, messages and photographs at South Africa House
and the Mandela statue in Parliament Square
People brought flowers to the Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square
and to South Africa House in Trafalgar Square, where a long queue waited patiently
for several hours to sign a book of remembrance in the High Commission.
EDL Protest Supports Marine A
Downing St, London, Fri 6 Dec 2013
EDL protesters think Marine A should not have been charged
and call for a lenient sentence
Around 50 EDL supporters protested opposite Downing St on the day that
'Marine A', Sergeant Alexander Blackman, was to be sentenced. They wanted
a minimal sentence, arguing that he acted under extreme pressure and that
his victim was a terrorist.
The EDL had hoped to have a large protest over this, suggesting perhaps
500 might attend. In the end there were a few under 50 while I was there,
and the protest lacked any real conviction, with virtually nothing to tell
anyone why they were there. There were no placards, just the flags on the
outside of the pen, mainly of few of the usual EDL flags, with a couple claiming
to support our troops. I heard one desultory chant in support of 'Marine A',
but it was not taken up. There were a couple of people with the slogan 'I
support Marine S' on their t-shirts, but the rest seemed fairly standard
EDL flags and sweatshirts with the EDL logo and the message 'No Surrender'.
Among the flags was one for the 'Taliban Hunting Club', with a skull
with red eyes inside a gunsight and crossed guns, which seemed in particularly
poor taste for this event.
I doubt if there are many serving soldiers who would wish to see the Geneva
conventions disregarded, and wonder what support if any this protest would
have from serving soldiers, many of whom have condemned strongly the cold-blooded
killing of a prisoner by Marine A and called for an appropriate sentence.
PMOI continue Hunger Strike
Grosvenor Square, London. Thu 5 Dec 2013
Brian Binley MP visits the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI)
on their 96th day of hunger strike
Brian Binley MP visited the hunger strikers of the People’s Mojahedin
Organization of Iran (PMOI) on their 96th day at the US embassy for the release
of 7 hostages held by Iraq since the September 1 invasion of Camp Ashraf.
The PMOI, also known as Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), a leftist group formed in
Iran in 1965 was one of the groups which took part in the 1979 revolution
which ousted the Shah, but soon fell out with Ayatollah Khomeni and the Islamic
Revolutionary Guards, and after an armed struggle was given refuge across
the border in a camp in Iraq by Saddam Hussein.
When the US invaded Iraq they attacked the camp before coming to a ceasefire
agreement with the PMOI. They agreed to give up their considerable arms (including
19 Cheftain tanks) and the 5000 PMOI members were given protected persons
status by the US under the Fourth Geneva Convention in Camp Ashraf, a refugee
camp which was guarded by the US miilitary. The PMOI also became the main
party in the Iranian parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance
of Iran (NCRI), which is based in Paris. Neither the EU nor the US now regard
the PMOI as a terrorist group.
When the US withdrew from Iraq the camp was transferred to Iraqi control.
Since then there have been several major attacks by Iraqi security forces.
The first in July 2009, killed 11 and injured over 500, with 36 being arrested,
and only released near to death after an extended hunger strike. Further attacks
came in October 2010, January 2011 and April 2011, when 36 were killed and
320 injured. On Feb 9, 2013 the camp was attacked by mortars and rocket, with
at least 7 deaths. The PMOI appealed to the US and the UN Secretary General
for help, but with no effect.
The invasion by Iraqi forces ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Mailki
on 1 Sept left 52 of the PMOI dead, and seven were taken as prisoners. They
are still held in the Baghdad Green Zone in Iraq despite calls by a hundred
Iraqi MPs for their release.
The hunger strike in a camp in front of the US embassy in Grosvenor Square,
London is one of several organised by the PMOI, including at Camp Ashraf and
by Iranians in Geneva, Berlin, Ottawa, Melbourne and London. It was the US
who guaranteed their safety and gave them protected persons status, and so
they hold the US responsible for protecting them. They also argue that the
US is the major backer of the Iraqi regime and urge them and the UN to make
urgent representations for the release of the prisoners.
This was the 96th day of the hunger strike, and there were five women who
were lying in beds, although others and the several men on hunger strike were
still sitting up and walking around. They all welcomed a visit from Brian
Binley, Conservative MP for Northampton South, who talked to each of them
briefly and brought them flowers. Several showed him some of the many photographs
they have around, some of them of those who have been killed or injured, as
well as pictures of their family members. After he had spoken to all those
on hunger strike, a rally began and he spoke about the injustice and the lack
of interest shown by many politicians both in the UK and in other countries
to the failure to protect the PMOI and the many deaths and the 7 hostages
currently held in Iraq.
After his speech he was presented with a bouquet and the rally continued,
but I had to leave.
Release Shaker Aamer
Grosvenor Square, London. Thu 5 Dec 2013
Police have got friendly with the protesters who are
here every month
Protests at the US embassy contunue against the detention for over 12
years of London resident Shaker Aamer, still held in the Guantanamo Bay prison
camp despite having been cleared for release under both Bush and Obama administrations.
Shaker Aamer was in Afghanistan with his family working for a Muslim charity
when the US invaded the country. He was kidnapped by Afghan bandits who claimed
he was a terrorist to sell him for bounty to the US authorities. After several
months of toruture in Afghanistan, some in the presence of British agents,
he was illegally rendered to the newly established Guantanamo prison camp
in early 2002.
Like most of the prisoners at Guantanamo - and there are 164 still there
- he has been and still is the subject of regular ill-treatment, beatings
and torture. Around a dozen of the prisoners are thought to stil be on a hunger
strike that started early in the year, and are regularly tied down and forcibly
fed though a tube inserted through their nose.
Aamer has a wife and family in London, living in Battersea, close to the
site of the new US embassy now being built. His youngest child was born a
few months after his arrest and has never seen his father. Aamer's health
is declining because of his conditions and treatment, and he is suffering
from a partial loss of sight. He has been kept under long periods of solitary
The reluctance of the US authorities to release him is thought to be because
of the evidence he would give if freed against both the US and UK agents involved
in his torture. Although both this and the previous government have asked
the US to release him, there are suspicions that they have failed to press
strongly on his behalf. It is thought that the US would like to return him
to his country of birth, where he would probably be imprisoned and never heard
of again. He was only given resident status in the UK because there was good
reason to assume that it would be unsafe for him to return.
In the latest of a continuing series of monthly demonstrations outside the
US embassy for his release that began around ten years ago, a small group
turned up with banners and leaflets at the embassy at noon. Police who have
got to know some of them over the years came to talk to them briefly as they
handed out leaflets to people walking past. The regular protests are a reminder
to the embassy staff that the US needs to shut Guantanamo, send home the prisoners
(or charge and try those few there is evidence against and send them to jail)
and end what the protesters and most of the rest of the world regard as the
shame of Guantanamo.
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