The sixth anniversary of Guantánamo: protest photos from London (and some information on the endangered right to protest in the UK)

18.1.08

Here’s a selection of photos of a lone, hooded activist in an orange jumpsuit making a simple, striking statement about Guantánamo at various London landmarks last Friday, to mark the sixth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo as a “War on Terror” prison. The photos were submitted by “g” to the Truth Action website, and a link was provided to the British activists’ site We Are Change.

Guantanamo protestor at Liverpool Street

At Liverpool Street, in the City, London’s global financial hub.

In a surreal touch, the police stopped the action in case it caused “mass hysteria.” That the object of this protest – the detention without charge or trial of tens of thousands of prisoners in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, Iraq and other secret prisons – might be a better candidate for the creation of “mass hysteria” was conveniently ignored.

Guantanamo protestor on the Millennium Bridge

On the Millennium Bridge.

Guantanamo protestor in Tate Modern

Inside Tate Modern. Is it art? Where’s Banksy?

Guantanamo protestor in Parliament Square

At Brian Haw’s permanent anti-war demonstration in Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Brian has now been demonstrating since June 2001, and has weathered the passing of legislation designed to shut down his protest (although he was attacked by a policeman while filming a “freedom to protest” event in Whitehall on January 12, and was then arrested on an unspecified public order offence and assaulted in a police van, as this report explains).

Under the terms of the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act (SOCPA), spontaneous demonstrations within a half-mile radius of Parliament were banned in 2005, and applications for protests must now be submitted and approved in advance. Dozens of activists have been arrested since SOCPA was introduced –- starting with Maya Evans and Milan Rai, who were arrested for reading out the names of dead British soldiers and Iraqi civilians outside Downing Street in October 2005 –- and there is nothing to stop the police from arresting a single hooded individual in an orange jumpsuit if he or she decides to make a silent protest within the “exclusion zone.”

This bleak repression of the right to protest is an insult, not only because it tramples on a long-cherished right to peaceful protest, but also because it highlights the hypocrisy of the man who introduced the legislation: former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who stated, during a visit to the United States in April 2002, “When I pass protesters every day at Downing Street, and believe me, you name it, they protest against it, I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That’s called freedom.”

Although Gordon Brown pledged to repeal the unpopular, and much vilified, clauses of SOCPA relating to protests outside Parliament, the website Parliament Protest reports that the government may use the current period of Public Consultation (which ended yesterday) “to ‘harmonise’ the laws covering static demonstrations (of which the Designated Area around Parliament Square is a special case), with the Public Order laws, which restrict processions and marches on the roads generally i.e. to inflict the wretched SOCPA restrictions everywhere else in England and Wales, or to apply Public Order restrictions to one person static demonstrations everywhere.”

Guantanamo protestor outside Downing Street

Outside Downing Street, the residence of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

For more on the protests marking the sixth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, see this brief report, and click here for a detailed account of the current situation at Guantánamo, which draws partly from my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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