On July 16, 2014, I joined campaigners with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign — calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison — at Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament, for their last Parliamentary vigil before the summer recess. The campaigners have been holding vigils every Wednesday lunchtime throughout the spring and summer, and will resume weekly vigils in September, unless Shaker is released in the meantime. See my photos on Flickr here.
Shaker’s British wife and his four British children live in Battersea, where they lived with Shaker before he was seized after the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan. He had travelled to Afghanistan with his family to provide humanitarian aid, but while his wife and children safely returned to the UK, he was caught by bounty hunters, and was eventually sold to US forces.
Shaker was first cleared for release from Guantánamo under the Bush administration, in 2007, and he was cleared for release again in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed to review the cases of all the prisoners after he took office in 2009. His release has also been requested by successive UK governments since 2007. And yet, although all the other British citizens and residents held in Guantánamo have been freed, he is still imprisoned, perhaps because he is a charismatic and eloquent man, who has always stood up for the prisoners’ rights, and both the US and the UK governments fear what he will say on his release. Read the rest of this entry »
On Thursday June 19, 2014, supporters of Julian Assange held a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge in London (just behind Harrods), which I attended and photographed.
Supporters of the WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief have been holding vigils almost every day since he walked into the embassy seeking political asylum on June 19, 2012. He feared that he would end up being extradited to the US from Sweden, where he is accused of sexual offences (claims which he denies), and his asylum claim was accepted by the government of Ecuador on August 16, 2012.
WikiLeaks’ work, exposing US crimes through documents released by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning — including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files — has, of course, been enormously influential, and I am pleased to have worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner on the release of the classified military files from Guantánamo in April 2011. For further information, see my ongoing project to analyze all the files.
To mark the anniversary, Julian Assange released the following statement (I have added the links at the end): Read the rest of this entry »
29 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of around 450 men, women and children — travellers, anarchists, free festival goers and green activists — were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence, and decommissioned with a violence that has rarely been paralleled in modern British history.
The convoy was en route to Stonehenge, to set up what would have been the 11th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, but the savage decommissioning of the travellers’ vehicles, their mass arrest, and the raising of a military-style exclusion zone around Stonehenge put paid to that prospect.
The exclusion zone was raised every June for the next 13 years, until the law lords ruled it illegal in 1999, and since then English Heritage have allowed unfettered access to the stones on the summer solstice, with up to 30,000 revellers — everyone from pagan priests to teenage party-goers — availing themselves of the “Managed Open Access” policy. Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday (May 23), activists around the world held a global day of action — in 39 towns and cities in the US, and six other cities worldwide — calling for the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, and the closure of the prison. The day was set up by my friends in the US-based campaigning group Witness Against Torture, and I was at the London protest, in Trafalgar Square. This was a silent protest organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign, and I’m pleased to make my photos available. The protest, in front of the National Gallery, was seen by many people, and enthusiastic volunteers handed out leaflets explaining why it was so important.
The London protest was also noteworthy for the presence of a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, which was an idea of mine, taken up by a supporter who financed the making of it. Shaker continues to be held, despite being cleared for release in 2007, under President Bush, and also under President Obama, and there will be further events calling for his release in the near future, which I’ll be publicising in due course. In the meantime, please sign and share the international petition calling for his release, and read some of my most recent articles about him; specifically, From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Says, “Tell the World the Truth,” as CBS Distorts the Reality of “Life at Gitmo”, Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo and Shaker Aamer’s Statements Regarding His Torture and Abuse in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo.
The date for the global day of action was chosen because it was exactly a year since President Obama promised, in a major speech on national security issues, to resume releasing prisoners, after nearly three years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt. Read the rest of this entry »
I was rather pleased that I was out of the country when Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor, announced on March 31 that he was approving plans for the development of Convoys Wharf in Deptford, because, in a city overrun with soulless riverside developments, designed almost exclusively for wealthy foreign investors and unaffordable for ordinary Londoners, it is a particularly depressing example, and one that, for me, is close to home, as I live just up the road from Deptford.
The 40-acre riverside site has been vacant since 2000, when it was closed by its last owner, News International, which used it as a dock for importing newsprint, and, since 2002, developers — initially NI itself, and, since 2005, the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, which bought the site off NI — have been trying to gain approval for a Dubai-style high-rise residential development on the site, consisting of 3,500 homes, featuring one 48-storey tower, and two 38-storey towers, far higher than anything else on the shoreline for miles around.
Normally, Chinese businessmen with £1bn to spend on luxury housing on London’s riverfront don’t have to wait for years to have their plans accepted, but the problem with Convoys Wharf is that it was and is a place of great historic importance — the site of the first of King Henry VIII’s Royal Dockyards, which was first developed in 1513 to provide ships for England’s rapidly expanding Royal Navy. Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT March 9: Here’s a short video about the “hospital closure clause” the government cynically inserted into the Care Bill to enable solvent successful hospitals near to hospitals in financial trouble to be closed or downgraded without proper consultation. MPs will be voting on Tuesday (March 11), so please act now. Sign and share the petition here if you haven’t already (it has nearly 180,000 signatures). Also, please write to your MP to urge them to vote against Clause 119, and to vote for an amendment tabled by Paul Burstow MP. And finally, if you’re in London, please come to the following protests: Monday March 10, 6-8pm on College Green opposite Parliament, St Stephen’s Entrance, and Tuesday March 11, 11.30am-12.30 on College Green. As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, this will be a noisy protest, so bring whistles, saucepans etc.
On February 27, 2014, supporters of the NHS handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street, signed by nearly 150,000 people, calling for health secretary Jeremy Hunt to withdraw Clause 119 of the Care Bill (colloquially known as the ”hospital closure clause”), which, if not withdrawn, will allow the government — and senior NHS managers — to “close viable hospitals without proper consultation.”
The handing in of the petition was followed by a demonstration outside Parliament and a Parliamentary meeting attended by Andy Burnham MP, the shadow health secretary, and all are featured in my photos above.
Clause 119 (formerly Clause 118) was cynically tagged onto the Care Bill by the government in autumn after the high court and then the appeals court ruled that plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, as part of the proposals for dealing with an indebted neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, were unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT Feb. 26: I have just found out that Clause 118 of the Care Bill, discussed in this article, which is intended to allow the government to close any hospital they wish without detailed consultation, has had its numbering changed, and is now Clause 119. Read it here, and please sign the 38 Degrees petition initiated by Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Please also sign and share the new 38 Degrees petition, “Cameron and Clegg: Protect Our Hospitals,” which has secured nearly 150,000 signatures in just two days.
Please, if you care about the future of the NHS, and if you’re British, write to your MP now and ask them to vote against Clause 118 in the Care Bill, which will be voted on early next month, and, if you’re in London, please consider attending a protest outside Parliament this Thursday, February 27 (details below).
Readers will hopefully be aware that, in October 2012, residents of the London Borough of Lewisham launched a major campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from being severely downgraded to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (in the neighbouring boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) under legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime.
25,000 of Lewisham’s 270,000 residents took to the streets a little over a year ago, and although heath secretary Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals put forward by Matthew Kershaw, the NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of the SLHT, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and Lewisham Council launched two judicial reviews, which, in July, met with success, when a judge ruled that Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully in approving the plans. Hunt appealed, but lost again in October. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been some time since I wrote about this wretched government’s vile assault on the disabled, through the rigged assessments (the Work Capability Assessments) administered by the multinational company Atos Healthcare, and designed to find as many mentally and physically disabled people as possible “fit for work” so their support can be cut. See some of my previous articles – Doctors Urge Government to Scrap Callous Disability Tests, Where is the Shame and Anger as the UK Government’s Unbridled Assault on the Disabled Continues?, Photos of the Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in London, Call Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the Disabled, The Tories’ Cruelty Is Laid Bare as Multiple Welfare Cuts Bite and Photos: The 10,000 Cuts and Counting Protest in Parliament Square, September 28, 2013.
Nevertheless, not a day has gone by without me thinking about the horrors of life under the Tories — and their assault not just on the disabled but also on the unemployed and the underpaid — and being close to despair at how my fellow citizens, in significant numbers, have embraced the filthy lies spewing from the lying lips of ministers and the merchants of hatred and division in the tabloid newspapers.
In response to this assault, campaigners launched an e-petition in December 2012, which became known as the WOW petition (war on welfare), and which called for a cumulative impact assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people, their families and carers, and an immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association in June 2012. Read the rest of this entry »
Burning Effigies of Tories at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.
On November 5, 2013 — Bonfire Night — I photographed effigies of members of the cabinet of the Tory-led coalition government — including David Cameron, George Osborne and others, as well as key Lib Dems and Labour politicians — as they were burned by activists in a brazier in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London. The caricatures were drawn by a member of the political group People Before Profit.
The activists in Lewisham were part of a day of action across the UK, in which numerous protestors held Bonfires of Austerity, initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an anti-austerity coalition of activists, union members and MPs, to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.
The borough of Lewisham, where I live, is famous for successfully resisting the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the local hospital, and on Bonfire Night activists marched from Catford to an open space in the centre of Lewisham (by the main roundabout, and affectionately known as “the grassy knoll”), where they burned effigies of David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. The protestors also burned effigies of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, key members of the disastrous coalition government, and Labour’s Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor. Read the rest of this entry »
On November 5, activists across the UK will be holding Bonfires of Austerity to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.
The British establishment has traditionally celebrated Guy Fawkes Night on November 5, marking the anniversary of the foiled plot by Guy Fawkes and others to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, although nowadays, I’m glad to note, the anti-Catholic aspect of the festivities has largely disappeared, and the day is more generally known as Bonfire Night (even though bonfires are generally frowned upon in dull, modern-day, health and safety obsessed England).
Thankfully, the spirit of dissent lives on, and this year protests across the country have been initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, a movement of political activists, union members and the handful of enlightened MPs who exist in Parliament. The movement was launched with a letter published in the Guardian in February, with signatories including Tony Benn, Len McCluskey, Mark Serwotka, John Pilger, Ken Loach and the late Iain Banks, followed by a press conference in March, where speakers included Caroline Lucas MP, journalist Owen Jones, comedian Mark Steel and disabled activist Francesca Martinez, and a meeting attended by over 4,000 people in Westminster Central Hall in June, following meetings and rallies across the country, at which a statement was issued that began as follows: Read the rest of this entry »
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