Video: I Discuss the Right to Protest, Guantánamo and the Plight of Julian Assange with Team Assange

A screenshot of Andy Worthington being interviewed by Alison Mason of Team Assange on March 20, 2021, discussing the UK government’s attempts to suppress peaceful protest, Guantánamo and the case of Julian Assange.

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I’m pleased to be posting a video of an interview I undertook recently with the London-based activists of Team Assange, who have a primary focus on the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but are also concerned with many other issues of social justice in the UK and around the world.

The interview came about after I met some of those involved with Team Assange in Parliament Square as part of the protests that followed the heavy-handed and astonishingly insensitive behaviour of the police at a peaceful vigil on Clapham Common for Sarah Everard, and that also coincided with the second reading, in the House of Commons, of the government’s horrible Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, with its intention of criminalising non-violent protest, and its assault on the rights of Gypsies and Travellers. For my recent articles on these topics, see The Dangerous Authoritarian Threat Posed by Priti Patel to Our Right to Protest and Dissent and Rise Up! How Protest Movements Define the Limits of Covid Lockdowns, and the Perils of Covid Denial.

My interview, with Alison Mason of Team Assange, starts 15 minutes into the one-hour programme, which also features an interview with Action4Assange activist Misty in Washington, D.C., and lasts for 20 minutes. I’ve posted it below, via YouTube, and I hope you have time to watch it, and will share it if you find it useful.

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Rise Up! How Protest Movements Define the Limits of Covid Lockdowns, and the Perils of Covid Denial

Kill the Bill: protestors in Parliament Square on March 15, 2021 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

With the anniversary of the UK’s first Covid lockdown approaching, I look at how how the protest movements that have arisen over the last 12 months — about racist oppression, the safety of women and an attempted ban on protest itself — have spontaneously arisen when the logical limits of strict lockdowns have been reached. I also note how these movements stand in stark opposition to the protests of those engaged in Covid denial, who wilfully flout genuine public safety concerns through a toxic mix of dangerous conspiracy theories.

The devastatingly incompetent and corrupt government of Boris Johnson

Ever since the first Covid lockdown was declared in the UK, on March 23 last year, the British people have, for the most part, complied with the rules laid down by a government that was spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with a global pandemic, that has handled it with shattering incompetence, and that has also engaged in cronyism to an unprecedented extent.

Elected in December 2019 to ‘Get Brexit Done’ by just 29% of the registered electorate, Boris Johnson stacked his cabinet with inadequate, second-rate politicians whose only requirement for being chosen was that they were fanatically committed to Britain leaving the EU, an astonishingly misguided policy of national suicide that came out of David Cameron’s shameful capitulation to Euro-sceptics in his own party, and the threat posed by UKIP under Nigel Farage.

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The Dangerous Authoritarian Threat Posed by Priti Patel to Our Right to Protest and Dissent

Shame on Priti Patel: a placard at the protest outside New Scotland Yard on March 14, 2021 following the heavy-handed suppression of a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common the evening before (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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So the war is on, then — of home secretary Priti Patel versus the people; Priti Patel, the authoritarian bigot, versus anyone who dares to disagree with her about anything; Priti Patel, a woman, and the child of Ugandan-Indian immigrants, who, nevertheless, embodies the worst aspects of an arrogant, intolerant, racist, sexist, planet-despoiling, rights-hating elite British patriarchy.

For anyone concerned about civil liberties in the UK, Priti Patel’s deeply troubling attitude to dissent seems to have fuelled yesterday’s heavy-handed response by the police to a peaceful vigil by women on Clapham Common mourning the brutal murder of Sarah Everard, allegedly by a serving police officer.

The sight of policemen using force to break up the vigil was an act of truly astonishing insensitivity, and while there are clearly questions to be asked of the officers involved — concerning their blatant ‘manhandling’ of grieving women, and claims that some officers deliberately trampled on flowers left by woman at the vigil, as well as the risibility of the Metropolitan Police’s own claims about them having to break up the vigil because of concerns about public safety in light of the ongoing Covid regulations — it seems most pertinent to look up the chain of command for an explanation of how and why such a heavy-handed and insensitive display of force took place — and that chain of command leads inexorably, via the Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, to Priti Patel.

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Coronavirus: How Did 8,900 Deaths Worldwide Lead to the Complete Shutdown of the Global Economy?

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I don’t mean to sound wilfully contrarian, but, as the UK enters a phase of coronavirus lockdown so surreal that it feels as though we’re all, almost overnight, living in an apocalyptic sci-fi movie, I have found myself struggling to cope with the imminent collapse of the entire global economy because of a virus that, to date, has killed less than 8,900 people worldwide [Note: as of March 21, the global death count was 11,554 people, and by March 22 it had reached a total of 14,444. By March 29, however, it had reached a total of 33,526, and, by April 3, the total had reached 53,458. By April 11, sadly, the total had reached 102,846].

Don’t misunderstand me. I recognise that the coronavirus is infectious, and that in China, where it began, and in Italy, where it subsequently took a sudden hold, the local health services were overwhelmed with the scale of its spread. As a result, I understand why the notion of a total lockdown in response has seemed so necessary. And in the UK, responding to the initial response of the government of Boris Johnson, which was to let the virus spread freely, and to let us, the livestock, develop “herd immunity” or die, I wholeheartedly joined in the cries of outrage of those opposing such an invitation to rates of infection and death that would, it seemed clear from the examples of China and Italy, overwhelm our own health service.

And so, in response, as the notion that people should self-isolate — perhaps for a two-week period, perhaps for a month, or two at the most — took hold, I also remained supportive, but now, suddenly, as the reality of a lockdown becomes apparent, with the prospect of total economic collapse, and the unchecked rise of unprecedented authoritarian impulses on the part of governments, and with isolation now being portrayed as something that may need to be implemented for a much longer period, I suddenly find myself in revolt.

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I Pledge My Allegiance to the Struggle for Survival Against Catastrophic Climate Change

Golfers in September 2017 playing a round at the Beacon Rock Golf Course in North Bonneville, Washington State, while a devastating wildfire raged in the tree-lined hills behind them (Photo: Beacon Rock Golf Course on Facebook).

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It’s several weeks now since Extinction Rebellion (XR) occupied four sites in central London — Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch — bringing traffic largely to a halt and noticeably reducing pollution, and raising climate change as an urgent matter more persuasively than at any other time that I can recall.

In the first of three demands, they — we — urged politicians and the media to “Tell the Truth” — no more lies or spin or denial. Tell the truth about the environmental disaster we face. When XR formally launched at the end of October, the timing was right: the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had just published a landmark report, in which, as the Guardian described it, “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.” The authors of the report added that “urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target”, which they called “affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the [2015] Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.”

The same week that Extinction Rebellion shut down much of central London, the BBC broadcast ‘Climate Change: The Facts’, an unambiguous documentary by David Attenborough, more hard-hitting than anything he has ever done before, which made clear to millions of people the scale of the environmental catastrophe that we’re facing.  

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Extinction Rebellion’s Urgent Environmental Protest Breaks New Ground While Drawing on the Occupy, Anti-Globalisation and Road Protest Movements

Climate emergency: Extinction Rebellion campaigners – mainly featuring an impressive samba band – marching from the camp at Marble Arch to the Oxford Circus occupation today, April 18, 2019. Most of Oxford Street was closed to traffic, like so many roads in central London, including Waterloo Bridge (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Well, this is getting interesting. On Monday, when the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion began its occupation of five sites in central London — Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus and Marble Arch — I wasn’t sure that the ongoing intention of crashing the system through mass arrests, and waking people up to the need for change by disrupting their lives was going to work. 

I’d taken an interest when Extinction Rebellion started in October — although I was still largely preoccupied by the occupation (and subsequent eviction) of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford — but I’d ended up thinking that, although they had secured significant media coverage, which was very helpful, and their ‘branding’ was extremely striking, this wasn’t going to be enough. 

I was somewhat heartened when, in related actions, school kids — inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg — got involved in climate strikes, and I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more on that front, but on Monday I couldn’t see how Extinction Rebellion’s latest coordinated protests were going to work. The police seemed, for the most part, to be trying not to give the protestors what they wanted — mass arrests — and although the crowds I encountered at Parliament Square and Oxford Circus reminded me of aspects of social movements of the past — Reclaim the Streets and the road protest movement from the ’90s, the anti-globalisation movement of the late ’90s and early 2000s, and 2011’s Occupy movement — I couldn’t see how the movement was going to be able to take the next step, and to build the momentum necessary for significant change.

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Violent and Unforgivable: The Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford

The destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden on February 27, 2019 (photo by David Aylward).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Today is my birthday, and I find myself in a reflective place, looking, at one side, on death and destruction, and, on the other, at life and love and solidarity.

Perhaps this is appropriate at the age of 56, when I am neither young nor truly old — and, believe me, I reflect on aging, and mortality, and what it means, with some regularity, as my restless brain refuses to settle, endlessly asking questions and seeking new perspectives and insights into the human condition. But that is not why I’m in this reflective place today.

Yesterday, in the hallucinatory light and heat of one of the hottest February days in London’s history, I stood on a small triangle of grass by the horrendously polluted Deptford Church Street in south east London, and watched as a small group of tree-killers, SDL Solutions, brought in from Gloucestershire, tore down almost all the trees in a beautiful community garden, the Old Tidemill Garden, whose tree canopy, which would imminently have returned as spring arrives, had, over 20 years, become an increasingly efficient absorber of that horrendous pollution. Read the rest of this entry »

As Lewisham Council Spend £1m Guarding the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden from the People of Deptford, Who Will Be Their Tree-Killers?

'Stunning apartments': a reclaimed sign brought to the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden prior to its violent eviction on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington). Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

A week last Friday, the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign — which I’m part of, and which is trying to save a community garden and a block of council flats in Deptford, in south east London from the wrecking ball of the cynical ‘regeneration’ industry — received some unwelcome, but not entirely unexpected news.

In the High Court, the court of appeals upheld an earlier decision not to accept a judicial review of the ‘regeneration’ plans, which centred on issues relating to the right to light of tenants in a block of flats next to the proposed building site.

In a statement for the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign, I responded by saying, “This is a disappointment, of course, but it doesn’t affect the campaign against the proposed destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and Reginald House. We continue to insist that the garden is too important as a barrier to pollution, and as a communal green space, to be destroyed, and that there is no acceptable reason for a structurally sound block of council flats to be knocked down for new housing that purports to be ‘social housing’ but will actually be at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, in Lewisham, is 63% higher than social rents.” Read the rest of this entry »

As the Stansted 15 Avoid Jail, The “Hostile Environment” Continues with Disgraceful New Windrush Flight to Jamaica

The Stansted 15 on Wednesday February 6, 2019, outside Chelmsford Crown Court, on the day they learned that no one would face a custodial sentence for their role in preventing a deportation flight from leaving the airport in March 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

So there was good news on Wednesday, as the Stansted 15 — activists who prevented a deportation flight from leaving Stansted Airport for west Africa in March 2017 — avoided jail. Three received suspended sentences (with two also receiving 250 hours of community service, with 100 hours for the third), eleven others were given 100 hours of community service, while the 15th “received a 12-month community order with 20 days of rehabilitation”, as the Guardian described it.

However, two troubling aspects of the story remain significant. The first is that the protestors were convicted on charges of terrorism, and, alarmingly, that conviction still stands. As Ash Sardar wrote for the Independent, “Rather than being convicted of aggravated trespass, as other protesters who committed similar offences had been in 2016, the Stansted 15 had an initial trespass charge changed four months into their bail to a charge of ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ – a scheduled terrorist offence, which potentially carries a life sentence.” The 2016 protest, at Heathrow Airport, against proposals for the airport’s expansion, involved three protestors who were part of the later actions at Stansted — the three who received the suspended sentences. 

Continuing with her analysis of the sentencing in the Independent, Ash Sardar added, “This particular bit of legislation – from the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, if anyone’s interested – was brought in after the Lockerbie bombing of 1988. Its application in a protest case is completely unprecedented in English courts. You might not agree with the actions of the Stansted 15, but this punitive and misguided use of legislation to criminalise protesters should have you worried regardless.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why the Conviction of the Stansted 15, on Terrorism-Related Charges, Must Be Overturned

The Stansted 15 (Photo: Kristian Buus / Getty Images).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

As someone who has spent the last 13 years working to end imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo, it has always been chilling to see these institutional crimes echoed in the UK. Under Tony Blair, foreign-born, alleged terror suspects were held without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, while other foreign nationals, and British nationals too, also regarded as terror suspects, were subjected to a form of house arrest, also on the basis of secret evidence, under what were known as “control orders.”

Unfortunately, throughout this period, the use of immigration detention was also on the rise. As the Guardian explained in an article in October based on a survey of its history, “The power to detain was created in the 1971 Immigration Act – however, it was not until the Labour government under Tony Blair that the detention estate expanded to become what it is today. In 2000, detention centres could hold 475 people, with another 200 or so held under immigration powers in prisons. Capacity has now expanded to about 3,500 spaces.”

The Guardian article noted that “[m]ore than 27,000 people were detained in 2017, according to the most recent figures”, adding, “Detention is now a significant part of the UK’s immigration enforcement efforts, but locking up immigrants without a time limit is a relatively recent phenomenon.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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