Save Lewisham Hospital
Lewisham, London. Sat 26 Jan 2013
Several nurses who took part in the Olympic opening ceremony came on the march
- and signed the petition
An estimated 25,000 people marched through Lewisham to save their hospital
from closure and to protect the NHS, showing south London united against the
closure on pure financial grounds of its highly succesful and much needed
A&E and maternity departments.
The proposals threatening closure of the A&E and maternity services,
and possibly also the the children's wards, critical care unit and emergency
surgery come from the Trust Special Administrator for the South London Hospitals
Trust, Matthew Kershaw, appointed by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in July
to deal with the more than £150 million loss made by the trust since
it was formed in 2009.
These losses do not come from Lewisham hospital or from the current running
of other hospitals in the area. Lewisham was not even a part of the body which
entered into disastrous private finance schemes to build hospitals in Orpington
and Woolwich before the SLHT was formed in 2009 and which saddled the new
body with debts of now over £60 million a year continuing until 2032.
The government at the time was warned of the problems these and other PFI
schemes would cause in later years but choose to ignore the warnings, which
have now turned out to be only too true.
Closure would make no financial sense - the costs involved in the closure
are high and the annual savings would be relatively small and probably more
than offset by increases in costs elsewhere in the system. If the government
goes ahead it will be an exercise in bad book-keeping that will create a great
deal of misery and cost many lives - just to make a political gesture. And
it would be a gesture that may and should backfire politically.
Lewisham hospital covers a huge area of south London, with a population of
around 750,000. As one of the matrons who spoke at the rally informed us,
reading a letter she sent during the consultation to Matthew Kershaw, every
week cases have to be sent to Lewisham from the hospitals which are supposed
to be able to cope with the extra load if Lewisham closes because they cannot
meet their existing workload. Several other speakers stressed that they were
only here because of receiving prompt treatment at Lewisham, and that they
would not have survived the at times lengthy journey to surrounding hospitals.
Radio presenter Nick Ferrari told how Lewisham had saved his son - who would
have died if it had been closed.
Closures such as this proposal are not connected with hospital closures because
of reorganisation to improve medical services. So far the government's response
to the huge protest expected at Lewisham appears to have been to try and confuse
to two. There are absolutely no medical reasons for the closure of Lewisham,
which is reflected in the complete solidarity of support for the campaign
to keep it open by medical staff. Lewisham has received considerable investment
in past years to enable it to offer an exceptional level of medical services.
All of the local MPs support the campaign, as well as many other Labour, Lib-Dem
and Conservative politicians from south London - and all appear to realise
that the closure is simply a money-saving exercise that fails to take into
consideration the needs of the population not just of Lewisham but also of
the surrounding areas.
It was difficult to walk from the station to the starting point of the march
a few hundred yards away because of the crush of people crowding the pavements
of Lewisham. The march set off very promptly just before 12.15 going through
the centre of the town, with a number of groups lining the pavement with placards
or standing and clapping as it passed. It continued, mainly at a fast walking
pace on past the hospital, where many workers came out to applaud and then
on through side streets - where again many people came out from their houses
- many of which had posters supporting the campaign - to watch and clap.
The protest was clearly larger than the earlier march to save the hospital
in November, and there were more obvious supporters among community organisations,
including Millwall FC, who had retimed Saturday's match to Friday evening
so they could take part in the event - and the players wore the campaign t-shirts.
At least one other of south London's league teams was also giving its support,
as well as many other organisations in South London. Many of the placards
were interactive, with a space where those carrying them could add the name
of their organisation - and many had done so. Several bands took part in the
march, including one that had been a part of the Olympic opening ceremony,
marching with light-bulbs in their hats. As was pointed out before they came
on stage at the rally, that performance had very much lauded the NHS as one
of our great national strengths, so it was appropriate that they should be
taking part in a march aimed at protecting it. The fight to save Lewisham
Hospital isn't just a local issue, but very much a national one, with the
provision of medical services that form the bedrock of the NHS under attack.
If the government can close down services at Lewisham, no other successful
hospital in the UK is safe in their hands.
In Mountsfield Park, the stage was set up in front of a large muddy field,
and on the way their many stopped to add their names and messages to a very
long petition sheet before venturing into the middle of the field. While perhaps
a thousand stayed to listen to the speeches - including those by two of the
local MPs, Joan Ruddock for Lewisham, Deptford and Heidi Alexander from Lewisham
East, who also spoke on behalf of Jim Dowd, medical staff and trade unionists
- rather more dispersed into less muddy parts of the park or decided to make
their way home. But most of the protesters simply had not managed to reach
the park because of the large numbers involved - the end of the march was
only just coming in as I left after around an hour.
Anti-fascist Solidarity Against Golden Dawn
Greek Embassy, Holland Park, London. Sat 19 Jan 2013
Police keep anti-fascists away from the small pro-Golden
Around five hundred people gathered outside the Greek Embassy in Holland
Park to protest against the fascist Golden Dawn Party in Greece and its attacks
on immigrants and others there as part of an international day of action.
There was a small counter-protest with 15 people organised by the 'British
Friends Of Golden Dawn'.
The London protest was organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF)at the request
of Greek antifascists in solidarity with their demonstration in Athens today
against the fascist Golden Dawn. Other solidarity protests were taking place
around the world, including in New York, Sydney, Barcelona, Lyons, Toronto,
Dublin, Vienna, Moscow, Canberra, Warsaw, Chicago, Copenhagen, Montreal, Bilbao,
Milan, Finland, Slovenia, Derry, Cork, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds and Bristol.
The electoral rise of Golden Dawn which got 6-9% of votes and 18 MPs in last
June's Greek elections has been accompanied by a campaign of violence on Greek
streets, including the racist murder of a Pakistani man, an attack on a Turkish
diplomat’s car last week, an attack on a left-wing Syriza MP and on-going
violent attacks on immigrants. Half of the Athens police voted for the party
and little effective action is taken against these attacks and provocations
in immigrant majority areas.
Unlike British right-wing parties, Golden Dawn makes not attempt to hide
its admiration for Nazi ideas and regalia but flaunts them openly. Their activities
have sparked outrage in Greece, and the demonstration there today under the
slogan 'Athens: anti-fascist city' is backed by the city council, many other
municipal authorities, trade unions, progressive politicians and parties,
immigrant, Muslim and black organisations, LGBT groups, intellectuals, writers
and others, a similar coalition that UAF has mobilised against the extreme
right here in Britain.
Many of those groups were represented by the speakers at today's London rally,
including (according to the UAF web site) Tony Benn, David Lammy MP, Jeremy
Corbyn MP, Greek actor Rahil Liapopoulou, columnist Owen Jones, author and
journalist Daniel Trilling, Sabby Dhalu and Weyman Bennett from UAF, Gerry
Gable of Searchlight, Elizabeth Mantzari of Solidarity with the Greek resistance,
Embargoed!'s Ipek Ozerim, Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah of UK Black Pride, NUS Black
Students Officer Aaron Kiely, Haci Ozdemir of the Refugee Workers Cultural
Association, a representative from Syriza, Andrew Burgin from Greece Solidarity
Campaign and a representative of the London Turkish and Kurdish community
Despite the snow and bitter temperatures, a sizeable crowd of perhaps 500
people turned up to show their solidarity and listen to the speeches. There
was a particularly loud welcome for veteran socialist Tony Benn, who looked
well but rather frail, and spoke fairly briefly, but stayed to listen to those
who followed him, including David Lammy MP and the two UAF Joint Secretaries.
Jeremy Corbyn MP gave a rousing speech and was followed by Varinder Singh
from Sikhs Against The EDL and Gerry Gable, the editor of Searchlight, long
a powerful force against racist and fascist groups.
Elizabeth Mantzari had just begun to speak when there was an uproar down
the road, as some of the crowd rushed to protest against a small group of
right-wing supporters of Golden Dawn, who police had brought in by bus in
to a pen a short distance down the road past the embassy. The protest was
organised by the 'British Friends Of Golden Dawn' and there were 15 of them,
most of whom I recognised from previous EDL protests, one wearing a Union
Jack mask and another with a black leather effect one, and they had brought
a Greek flag and a Union Jack with the message 'English Loyalists' across
Confronting them were around 50 protesters who had run from the main demonstration
before police had formed a line across the road and blocked the others from
following. Another line of police separated these two groups, and although
there was a lot of abuse, there was no violence from either side. The anti-fascists
had two large banners, one in Greek and English 'Down With Fascism' another
large black 'Anti-Fascist Network' banner.
Those who had been stopped further down the road also made no attempt to
force their way past the police line, but contented themselves with shouting
at the counter protesters and waving their placards.
I wanted to ask why as 'English Loyalists' they supported Greek Neo-Nazis,
but both groups were too busy trading insults for any sensible conversation,
although some of the Golden Dawn supporters did find time to insult me and
accuse me of working for Searchlight - which I've never done. I don't even
remember having met Gerry Gable - who I photographed earlier in the event
After a few minutes, police persuaded and guided those protesting against
the right wingers to move back towards the main body of the protest, and they
slowly did so. After the 'English Loyalists' had been in the pen for just
over 20 minutes, police had a brief word with them and then escorted them
away and to the nearby tube station, followed by a slightly larger crowd still
shouting insults. A few snowballs were thrown at them, but I saw no real incidents,
although there was a little of a scuffle as police stopped protesters following
them onto the tube.
Meanwhile the rally outside the Greek embassy was continuing, although I
had missed some of the speakers. David Lammy came back to report about the
discussion he and Weyman Bennett had been having with the officer in charge
of policing the protest, who had on reflection agreed that the opposition
should not have been assisted by the police to make their counter-protest
so close to the embassy. Bennett too made clear that this was another ignominious
defeat for right-wing racists following on from Walthamstow, and that any
further attempts to stir up trouble in London would meet with a similar huge
community response. Other speakers followed, including one on behalf of the
left-wing Greek party Syriza and Owen Jones on his usual forceful and amusing
form, before the rally finished after the planned hour and a half - certainly
long enough to be standing around in today's weather. The protest was a success
for the UAF, and yet another humiliation for the extreme right.
'Stand with Brad' at US Embassy
Grosvenor Square, London. Wed 16 Jan 2013
Protesters support Bradley Manning and Julian Assange
in a vigil at the US embassy
A vigil of solidarity with Bradley Manning played the soundtrack of the
video 'Collateral Murder' outside the US Embassy on day 963 of his pretrial
detention while his defence argued in court for charges to be dismissed for
lack of a 'speedy trial.'
Protesters, including members of 'Veterans for Peace', gathered outside the
embassy in Grosvenor Square and stood silently in line holding placards calling
for Bradley Manning to be freed. Some of the placards said that whistle blowing
was not a crime, and the protesters stood in silence while the audio of 'Collateral
Murder', a 45 minute video allegedly leaked by Manning to Wikileaks was played.
The video clearly shows US forces committing war crimes and has become a symbol
of the need for Wikileaks and 'for courageous whistleblowers like Bradley
A statement from the group reads:
'As we stand facing the Eagle, we are telling the powers perpetuating
this ‘asymmetric warfare’ that we have not forgotten the things
that have been revealed to us, the things that they hoped to keep under
wraps: we will still out lies.
We are showing our respect and gratitude by standing in solidarity
with Brad, the one now in the dock for standing for truth and justice, and
reminding the authorities that we oppose their persecution of him.'
The protest was one of a series organised by WISE Up Action. a Solidarity
Network for Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, and similar events are held
on other occasions when Manning appears in court at Fort Meade. On the reverse
of many of the placards was a picture of Julian Assange, and after the vigil
at the US embassy the group was planning to go on to take part in the daily
vigil it organises every afternoon outside the Ecuadorian embassy were Assange
is still surrounded under threat of arrest if he leaves.
Stop Psychiatry Drugging Kids
Royal Courts of Justice, London. Wed 16 Jan 2013
Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Scientology front group, protests against
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (United Kingdom) protested at
the High Court today against a child who has never been diagnosed with any
mental illness being dosed with a dangerous anti-psychotic drug prescribed
by a psychiatrist.
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is described on Wikimedia
as 'a Scientology front group which campaigns against psychiatry and psychiatrists'
and was established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology. Its UK branch describes
itself as "one of a number of nonprofit mental health watchdogs,
responsible for helping to enact more than 150 laws protecting individuals
from abusive or coercive practices" and goes on to state: "CCHR
has long fought to restore basic human rights to the field of mental health,
including, but not limited to, full informed consent regarding the medical
legitimacy of psychiatric diagnosis, the risks of psychiatric treatments,
the right to all available medical alternatives, and the right to refuse any
treatment considered harmful."
Many would agree with at least some of the statements that the CCHR makes
about the unscientific nature of much psychiatry, and also of the harm that
can be caused by the labelling of people, particularly children, as suffering
from various mental disorders. And it is indisputable that the pharmceutical
industry makes rich profits from the treatment of often non-existent conditions,
and that patients, including children, are often drugged into comatose submission
as an easy solution to difficult or challenging behaviour. But it seems unfair
to dismiss all of psychiatry as their banner did as 'Junk Science and
Dangerous Drugs' and I find it impossible from personal experience to
deny the existence of medical conditions such as depression - or to dismiss
the utility of some drugs in the treatment of mental conditions.
But it is hard not to be concerned about the human rights abuses of Scientology,
and difficult to regard seriously its statments about junk science when it
associates itself with products such as ASEA. The man in a white coat at the
protest holding the pill bottles which were described as redundant and unscientific
told me about, and I looked it up on the web. It soon became clear that it
was an unscientific scam, promoted by dubious means. ASEA is pure salt in
pure water. So at least in small quantities it won't do any harm except to
your wallet, but as a qualified chemist I can certify the description of its
magical constitution as scientific nonsense. As the web site 'Science-Based
Medicine concludes: "The only value of the product is the entertainment
value that can be derived from reading the imaginative pseudoscientific explanations
they have dreamed up to sell it."
Much of the actual information about the case they were protesting about
heard at the Royal Courts of Justice today is confidential, but available
of course to the court, which I understand backed their case, although the
matter has to be confirmed by the family court. The court thought it was a
good case, and from what little I heard I think the court was right. It was
a lively protest with kids labelled with various disorders, a number of well-worn
placards and a lively little dog - I think called Paddy - that attracted photographers
and was lifted high into the air when the court's decision was heard.
Equality Protest Against ATOS Work Assessments
Royal Courts of Justice, London. Wed 16 Jan 2013
Iain Duncan Smith's Nosferatu - Clawing Back Benefits
for Bankster's Bonuses
Disabled activists held a vigil at the Royal Courts of Justice as a tribunal
heard a judicial review of Work Capablility Assessments on the grounds they
violate the Equality Act, not being accessible for those with mental health
The protesters included a number of disabled people, with a few in wheelchairs,
but more who have mental health conditions, along with a number of pensioners,
trade unionists from the court branch of the PCS and other supporters. They
stood outside the court with placards and banners and held a rally at which
many of those present spoke. The speakers reminded us of the special problems
with the Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) for many with mental health conditions,
as these are often spasmodic, which may result in claimants on a good day
not seeming very ill and on a bad day being unable to attend an assessment
- which results in them being automatically judged fit for work. They stressed
that few of those carrying out the tests had sufficient knowledge and experience
in the area of mental health to be able to sensibly conduct the assessment,
and called for medical records to always be presented and used in the assessments.
The protest stressed the criticisms made of the testing procedure by MPs
and doctors through the BMA as well as by campaigners and independent reports
made for the Dept of Work & Pensions. As their press release stated:
'Dozens of disabled people are dying every week following assessment.
Nearly 40% of those who appeal the decision to remove benefits have the
decision overturned, meaning thousands of people are wrongly being put through
a traumatic and harrowing experience needlessly. The governments own appointed
assessor of the policy has ruled it ‘unfit for purpose’... This
would not be acceptable in any other government contract, yet goes without
comment or sanction by this government. No-one is called to account, no-one
Pussy Riot London Solidarity Demonstration
Russian Embassy, Kensington, London. Wed 16 Jan 2013
Most of the protesters had brought hoods or masks like
those worn by Pussy Riot
Protests opposite the Russian Embassy took part in an International Day
of Solidarity with Maria Alyokhina, attending a court hearing today over her
plea for her sentence to be suspended so she can raise her son until he is
Three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced for their
performance of an anti-Putin "punk anthem" in a Moscow Orthodox
cathedral in February. Yekaterina Samutsevich was released in October having
been given a suspended sentence, but Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
were sent to prison camps in some of the Soviet Unions harshest areas. Alyokhina
is severing her two years in Perm in Siberia, where the court hearing is taking
Protests around the world, including in Argentina, Australia, France, Czech
Republic, several cities in Germany, Italy, Sweden and in both Moscow and
St Petersburg were taking place today.
It was a bitter morning in London, and traffic in some areas were disrupted
by a major accident early in the rush hour, and protesters were slow to arrive
opposite the Russian Embassy in Kensington. It was perhaps a mistake to call
a three hour protest, and some people who arrived took a brief look and then
went off elsewhere, intending to come back later. For some time there was
only a single protester in the pen, but others began slowly to drift along
in ones and twos. There were still only a handful when I had to leave for
another protest, but more were expected to arrive later, particularly around
Guantánamo - 11 Years of Illegal Detention
US Embassy, London. Fri 11 Jan 2013
Obamas abounded, and there were large posters of his
broken pledges over Guantanamo
11 Years of illegal detention at the US military prison camp of Guantánamo
Bay was marked by a candlelit vigil outside the US Embassy in London.
The protest on the 11th anniversary of the setting up of the camp came just
a week before the inauguration of President Obama for a second term as US
President. The closure of Guantanamo was a key election pledge when he first
stood, but he has failed to do so. There are still 166 prisoners held there,
and only 72 have been released despite many more having been cleared for release.
Protesters, some wearing orange jumpsuits, came to the US embassy in the
early evening for a candle-lit vigil. There were a number with 'Obama' face
masks as well as one or two wearing the masks of detainees.
The protesters lit a long line of candles (though perhaps it never quite
made it to 166) set out on the pavement in front of the US Embassy in Grosvenor
Square and then lined up along the tall embassy fence behind them. Inside
the compound, armed police watched. The protesters held up a number of quotes
from President Obama containing his promises to close down the illegal prison
camp at Guantanamo. Others held posters and banners calling for the camp to
be shut down and prisoners like Shaker Aamer, the last Londoner there, to
be set free.
Following this sheets were handed out to the line of protesters each with
the number and name of a detainee. These were then read out in turn going
along the line, with each name being followed by everyone shouting 'Present'
as if a register was being called.
Rendition Routes to Guantanamo
Knightsbridge & Belgrave Square, London. Fri 11 Jan 2011
I thought of Abbey Road, but wanted it to be a bit different
On the 11th anniversary of the illegal US prison camp at Guantanamo bay,
four walks in London mirrored the route taken by detainees including Shaker
Aamer, calling in turn at the embassies of countries who colluded in his illegal
The protest on the 11th anniversary of the setting up of the camp came just
a week before the inauguration of President Obama for his second term as US
President. The closure of Guantanamo was a key and often repeated election
pledge when he stood for his first term, but in office he has failed to keep
his promise. Although 72 prisoners have been released, there are still 166
men held there, many of whom have actually been cleared for release, some
more than five years ago.
Guided walks in the afternoon traced the journeys of five men to Guantanamo,
each calling at the various embassies that facilitated the rendition of one
of them to the detention camp (two had followed the same route.) The men included
Shaker Aamer, a British resident still held despite being cleared for release
in 2007, whose family, including a ten-year old son born shortly after his
capture who has yet to see his father, live in Battersea, and another former
British resident, Ahmed Belbacha. He was also cleared for release in 2007,
and although he has been offered housing in Bournemouth where he worked for
several years and in Amherst, MA, but both UK or US governments are opposed
to accepting him. The UK regard him as a failed asylum seeker as he lost his
UK appeal asylum appeal in 2002 when he failed to appear at the the hearing
when he was already held in Guantanamo. The US want to deport him to Algeria,
where also in his absence he has been tried and sentenced to 20 years jail,
thought to be for his speaking out about the inhumane treatment he would be
subjected to if returned there.
The other walks were for child soldier Omar Khadr, a Canadian captured as
a fifteen year old fighting in Afghanistan and now held in a Canadian maximum
security jail after conviction by a military tribunal, torture victim Abd
El-Rahim Al-Nashiri currently on trial at Guantanamo, and Adnan Farhan Abdul
Latif, a Yemeni prisoner who died in Guantanamo last September, eight years
after he had been cleared for release during the Bush presidency. His death
serves to confirm the suspicion of many that the US authorities intend to
hang on to some of the prisoners until they die - and hastening their deaths
by continued daily mistreatment.
I was photographing elsewhere when the walks began and it wasn't easy to
make contact with them as the walk leaders were not answering their phones.
Eventually I met up with the group of just over a dozen, four of them in orange
jump suits, tracing the embassies of countries involved in the illegal rendition
of Shaker Aamer. They had started at the Afghanistan embassy and when I met
them in Knightsbridge were on their way to the Turkish embassy.
The orange boiler suits, posters and black hoods attracted considerable attention
as they walked slowly through the busy street of shops, shouting about the
illegal detention of Shaker Aaamer, handing out leaflets and calling for support.
But as we got closer to the embassy, passing several other embassies on the
way, the streets were largely deserted.
A police officer outside the Turkish embassy asked the protesters to move
to a pen on the opposite side of the wide road around Belgrave Square, but
they decided first to try and deliver a letter to the Ambassador. Another
officer arrived and went inside the embassy to enquire if they would accept
the letter, taking in one of the flyers about Shaker Aamer. Unfortunately
he came out a few minutes later to tell them that the embassy was not prepared
to accept hand-delivered letters and that they should post it normally.
A short distance away at the Portuguese embassy the protest was treated differently,
with a charming man coming outside and listening briefly before taking the
letter. The protesters then held a short rally outside the embassy, talking
about Shaker Aamer, the last Londoner in Guatanamo, and the forthcoming demonstration
in Parliament Square on 13th Febraury when he will have been held there for
11 years. Aamer, a charity worker, is still held over five years after being
cleared for release, and campaigners believe this is because of the embarrassment
his testimony would give to both US and UK governments, with further evidence
of UK collusion in torture.
In the letter to the ambassadors of Afghanistan, Turkey and Portugal, the
Save Shaker Aamer campaign states:
Your country secretly permitted use of your air-space and facilities
to the CIA on February 13 2002 in contravention of international border
controls and agreements...You agreed to ask no questions, make no record
and suspend routine inspections. Had you inspected the flight, you would
have found Shaker Aamer and other prisoners chained together, in boiler
suits, hoods, ear muffs and nappies. They had been drugged and forbidden
to speak. Armed guards stood over them.
I left the group as they were on there way to the US Embassy for a further
Assange Supporters Continue Embassy Vigil
Ecuadorian Embassy, London. Fri 11 Jan 2011
Don't shoot the messenger - Free Assange
Supporters of Julian Assange continue a regular protest at the Ecuadorian
embassy which he is living. Among them were supporters of 'Women Against Rape'
who do not want him extradited to face rape charges they say are political.
Although Assange has now been inside the embassy for over 200 days and press
frenzy has largely abated, a small groups of supporters continue a daily vigil
opposite; there were eight when I arrived in mid-afternoon and half a dozen
came as I was leaving. One of those I talked to told me that he came several
times a week when he could fit it in with his work. There was a large Australian
flag with the message 'Free Assange' and the same text with comments such
as 'Don't Shoot the Messenger' on posters that they held. To one side was
a large banner from 'Collateral Murder', a web page showing videos about the
indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad
-- including two Reuters news staff. Wikileaks released a classified militiary
video of this in 2010, and Private Bradley Manning is accused of making it
available to them.
At the vigil I was handed a flyer from 'Women Against Rape' reproducing a
Guardian Article from 23 Sugust 2012 in which they make state that 'The judicial
process has been corrupted' and that the pressure to extradite Assange is
a part of a political clampdown against Wikileaks. The write: 'Once again
women's fury and frustration at the prevelance of rape and other violence
is being used by politicians to advance their own purposes... this time to
facilitate Assange's extradition or even rendition to the US'.
BBC Ignores Palestinian Hunger Strikes
Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London. Fri 11 Jan 2013
The protest was small but raised the important issue of BBC bias
The Palestinian Prisoners Campaign protested at the BBC in London complaining
at BBC bias in failing to cover the hunger strikes by Palestinian political
prisoners Samer Al-Issawi and Ayman Sharawna and brutal attacks by Israeli
Samer Al-Issawi, a Palestinian held in an Israel prison without charge or
trial has been on hunger strike for over 160 days. Three weeks ago, a brutal
attack by Israeli guards on this wheelchair-bound virtual skeleton in an Israeli
courthouse with a judge standing by which broke several of his ribs was captured
on video and made available to the media. Another prisoner, Ayman Sharawna,
suspended his hunger strike for a week after six months, but has now resumed.
Despite the length of these protests, the seriousness of the men's condition
and the newsworthy attack, the Palestinian Prisoner Campaign (PPC) complain
that the BBC has failed to make any mention of them in the 21 million articles
on the BBC web site.
The PPC contrast this with the coverage given to Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit
since his release in an internationally brokered deal in October 2011, who
is mentioned in over 50 articles from 2012. They say the two hunger strikers
are among those who were covered by the deal to release Shalit but that Israel
reneged on the deal after Shalit was released.
The protest was by a small group, but expressed the feeling of many who have
posted about the failure of the BBC to report the issue on Facebook and other
online media. Among the several large posters they displayed was one of including
a letter from the mother of Samer Al-Issawi, appealing to the BBC to publicise
the plight of her son. In it she says he is in a 'very critical condition
... as a result of an assault on him a few days ago in the courtroom by Israeli
soldiers only because he wanted to touch his mothers hand.'
Another poster compared two stories - 'Abandoned Dog Recovering After
losing 1/2 Body Weight', and 'Palestinian Political Prisoner Samer
Issawi on Hunger Strike 169 Days, On Verge Of Death After Loosing More Than
1/2 Body Weight' and asks the question 'BBC -is a dogs life worth
more than a Palestinians?' because it was only the first of these stories
that made the news. Whatever people feel about the Palestinian cause, it seems
a disturbing reflection on the BBC's sense of priorities.
The protesters stood largely in silence facing the iconic building of Broadcasting
House and its less imposing large recent extension. The BBC had put some ropes
with security men in front of the large yard in front of the new extension
and a sign saying it was private property and only those with passes would
be admitted, and the police were obviously prepared for a larger protest.
Many of those entering and leaving the BBC came over to read the placards
and take the leaflets, and some were obviously sympathetic to what appears
to be a BBC bias, and one mentioned the banning of the Disasters Emergency
Committee for Gaza in January 2009 as another example of this - a decision
that was widely criticised by BBC staff, with the Today programme giving Tony
Benn the opening to 'hijack' an interview and make the appeal despite the
De-List Vedanta from London
Berkeley St, Mayfair, London. Fri 11 Jan 2013
Protesters let Vedanta know "The whole world is watching you!!"
A noise demonstration picketed the UK HQ of Vedanta Aluminium calling
for the mining company to be de-listed by the Financial Conduct Authority
because of its worldwide record of environmental destruction, corruption and
human rights abuse.
Vedanta is a London-based mining company founded by billionaire Anil Agarwal
and owned by him and his family through various tax havens. It's listing on
the London FTSE 100 gives it what former CBI director Richard Lambert has
called 'a cloak of respectability', allowing it to access 'lots
of passive investors' despite 'challenging the canons of corporate
Vedanta's activities in India and Africa have led to protests by people around
the world. In Odisha, its bauxite mining and aluminium smelting have displaced
over 10,000 people and ruined large areas of fertile land; their attempt to
mine hills sacred to the indigenous population have so far been prevented
for seven years by mass protests and legal actions, with a Supreme Court ruling
expected shortly on whether mining can go ahead despite the "inalienable
rights" of the indigenous population.
Vedanta's Goa subsidiary has been accused of large scale fraud and illegal
mining, and there have been major floods of mine waste, including the drowning
of a whole village in toxic waster. Their subsidiary Sterlite in Tamil Nadu
has violated environmental conditions and expanded its operations without
consent. A toxic gas leak in 1997 led to mass protests - with over 1500 people
being arrested for taking part. Deaths of workers have been wrongly recorded
as suicides and damning decisions by courts and pollution control boards and
experts have been reversed, leading to allegations of large scale corruption
Also in Tamil Nadu, Vedanta continue to mine in the Koli Hills for ten years
after their permission ran out before local protests by affected villagers
and activist petitions managed to halt it in 2008; the abandoned mines continue
to pollute water supplies and local villages.
At Chhattisgarh in Korba after Vedanta bought a aluminium plant in 2001 they
slashed wages and sacked many unionised workers. After a chimney collapse
in which the company claim 42 workers were killed, they quickly bulldozed
the rubble and between 60-100 workers are missing, assumed to have been buried
in the rubble.
Vedanta also has interests in other areas of the world, and is supported
by the UK government through both the Department for International Development
(DFID) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The government has
also helped them through the World Bank and by the personal intervention of
David Cameron who put pressure on the Indian government to force through a
deal giving Vedanta 30% of India's crude oil at a knock-down price.
The protest outside Vedanta's London office took place on the street outside
the building where they occupy a suite on an upper floor, and was a noisy
but peaceful affair with a large number of banners and placards listing some
of Vedanta's crimes around the world. It started with a group of around a
dozen but soon grew to around 50, including Japanese anti-nuclear protesters
as Vedanta is also involved with nuclear power in India.
Police ensured that the protesters did not block the entrance to the offices,
shared with several other companies, and security men from the offices stood
and watched the protest. Many of those going in an out of the building and
passing along the street took the leaflets the protesters were handing out
giving details of Vedanta's activities and of the support they get from the
UK Government, and some stopped to talk with protesters.
The worldwide campaign against the illegal activities of Vedanta has had
some success, with several large investors having sold their investments in
the company because of its ecological and human rights crimes. The protesters
hope more will do so, and one of the main aims of today's protest was to but
pressure on the new Financial Conduct Authority to investigate and de-list
They also call for Vedanta's CEO Anil Agarwal, one of the richest people
in Britain to be brought to justice. As well as the crimes of Vedanta they
also claim he and the company are closely linked to the extremist Hindu right
groups responsible for genocidal attacks on minority Muslim and Christian
communities in some Indian states.
Parliament Square Hunger Strike
Parliament Square, Westminster, London. Thu 10 Jan 2013
Barbara under an umbrella in Parliament Square on day
15 of her hunger strike
Peace campaigner Barbara Tucker is now on the 15th day of her hunger
strike in Parliament Square, almost a year since police took away her shelter
on Jan 16th 2002, continuing the campaign begun by the late Brian Haw on 2
I visited the peace campaign briefly while Barbara Tucker who looked and
sounded well was working on an urgent deadline for an article about the peace
campaign with one of her supporters. They were sitting under a large umbrella
with blankets and many layers of clothing writing on a Mac. Even the umbrella
has been taken away from them on various occasions, but has been returned.
It was dark and just a degree or two above freezing.
Tucker has now been protesting on the pavement here for over seven years,
continuously apart from two spells in prison and over 47 arrests for her protests.
She hopes that her hunger strike will shame the British Government into action,
and in an interview with PressTV says that she will continue for as long as
it takes - even if it means slowly dying in front of Parliament, although
as she wrote when 5 days after beginning the hunger strike "I did
not come to Parliament Square to die and I do not want to die. I came to Parliament
Square because people everywhere are entitled to - live - in peace, without
the constant illegal wars being waged by government."
In her statement issued on 31 December, Tucker complains about the failure
of the Westminster council and the police to either prosecute her or return
the property they took away a year ago. The campaign also complains about
repeated harassment by the police and 'heritage wardens', and on the campaign
web site witness statements are reproduced that show that wardens report when
she is seen sleeping so that police may come and harass her. Under the The
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 using sleeping equipment
to sleep overnight in the square is an offence, but they have taken away her
'sleeping equipment', and sleeping in itself is not a crime.
The statement points out that the restrictions and their over-zealous and
unlawful application are an attempt "to hasten a break down of the
human immune system, which placed under constant stress, fighting the elements,
will mean we go or die" and that "It is illegal for the
state to make their endangering of life a condition of our Freedom of Expression."
Tucker writes: "I know with certainty that even I, am very unlikely
to survive another winter without our tents, and so I have taken the serious
step of beginning a hunger strike. This is not something I have ever done
in seven years of peacefully campaigning here.
The purpose of my hunger strike on the doorstep of government, where
we campaign, is to highlight to government their injustice in not returning
our tents which are necessary for our survival as we peacefully exercise our
right to Freedom of Expression now."
Brian Haw's health deteriorated markedly over his almost ten years in Parliament
Square, and he also smoked more heavily. Although his death on 18 June 2011
was from lung cancer, his ten years of protest and the frequent and repeated
harassment undoubtedly hastened his decline and death.
Gang Rape Protest at Indian High Commission
Aldwych, London. Monday 7 Jan 2013
'Never Again' held up by a woman outside the Indian
Around a thousand people crowded the pavement outside the Indian High
Commission in a protest against Indian attitudes to rape and violence to women
led by Southall Black Sisters following the gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh
People crowded the pavement outside the Indian High Commission this evening
to protest against the gang rape of the young medical student on a Delhi bus
that led to her death a few days ago in a Singapore hospital. There were far
more than police had planned for, and they spilled dangerously out into the
busy road at Aldwych - at least one lane needed to have been protected by
cones for safety. The majority of those present were women, many of them Indian,
but there were many others.
As Southall Black Women stated when they called for the protest, shocking
though the attack on Jyoti was, "this is only one of many acts of
horrific sexual violence that take place everywhere and every day in India.
The world’s largest democracy was named the worst country in the G20
countries for violence against women (after Saudi Arabia) in the recent Trust
Law/Reuters Survey. This is the heart of darkness in 'India shining'. By drawing
worldwide attention to this horror and solidarity for Indian women, we hope
to shame the Indian government into acting now by making public spaces safe
for women, starting with implementing the laws and bringing the perpetrators
Of course as was made clear at the protest, violence against women is endemic
around the world, and among the protesters were those from women's projects
and refuges in London and elsewhere in England. But India unfortunately stands
out for the attitudes to women generally and by the police and courts in particular.
The protest was a show of solidarity for the demands of Indian feminists,
in particular for:
- Increased patrolling and deployment of police, including police women
in public places so that such incidents can be prevented, and women’s
safety assured; improved infrastructure to make cities safer for women.
- Fast track courts to deal with rape cases, hearings to be held on a
day to day basis, so that sentence can be delivered within a period of
6 months. Police investigation to be conducted in a time bound manner.
- Standardized investigation procedures to be circulated to all police
stations, with action taken against police personnel who do not implement
- Increased sensitization, effective investigation and accountability
of the police in dealing with heinous crimes against women.
- Immediate relief, legal and medical assistance, and long term rehabilitation
measures to be provided to survivors of rape, without delays and hassles.
People were still arriving to swell the numbers at the noisy protest when
Epiphany Rising Against King Remembered
Swan Alley to St Paul's Cathedral, London. Sun 6 Jan 2013
Venner broke into St Pauls with an armed gang, but the
re-enactment merely posed for photographs
The bloody armed insurrection by Thomas Venner and fellow Fifth Monarchists
standing up heroically against the re-imposition of the monarchy at Epiphany
in 1661 was remembered today in a re-enactment walk following the route of
The Fifth Monarchists were an important religious movement in England
during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, seeing the execution of King Charles as
being part of the fulfulment of the Biblical prophesy in the book of Daniel
about the end of the four kingdoms of history being followed by the "rule
of a son of man" for a thousand years (which they took as the rule by
the Pope) after which would come the Christ's reign on earth. For this to
happen, the old order had to be ended by violence - as had begun with the
beheading of the king.
They included three of those who had signed the execution warrant, but they
soon become disillusioned with Cromwell, who they saw as trying to make himself
a king and they began to agitate against him. Thomas Venner was imprisoned
for several years for plotting to overthrow Cromwell, but released when Richard
Cromwell became Protector.
They were incensed by the restoration of the monarchy, and in particular
by the savagery shown by the new order against the 'regicides', including
Fifth Monarchist Major-General Harrison who showed great bravery during his
gruesome public execution by hanging, drawing and quartering.
Venner, a popular lay preacher and one of the most radical of the group,
led a congregation at Swan Alley (now Great Swan Alley) in the north of the
City of London, and at the start of 1661 he lead a group of around 50 men
(and some women) from there to attack key points in the city of London with
the battle cry "King Jesus and the heads upon the gates".
For four days they held various parts of the city and fought off attempts
to stop them, but then were met by a large force from the army. They took
refuge in a pub in Coleman St and continued to fight for several hours until
all were either killed or captured. Venner, who had earlier killed three men
with his halberd in Threadneedle St nad been wounded 19 times before he was
After a brief trial at the Old Bailey, and along with ten others he was sentenced
to be hung, drawn and quartered; the sentence was carried out in front of
the meeting place of his congregation in Swan Yard on 19 Jan 1661. Although
many other Fifth Monarchists who had taken no part in the rising were hunted
down and hung or imprisoned, and draconian laws were enacted against dissenters
this did not end the movement.
Around 25 people, including a number of figures well-known on the anarchist
and radical left, met at the site of Venner's death to remember these radicals
who lived and died for their beliefs in a more egalitarian society. Among
them with his young daughter was the grandson of Philip Sidney Noakes, the
last of the Muggletonians who died in 1979. They were another egalitarian
dissenting sect which began around 1651, but unlike the Fifth Monarchists,
Ian Bone, one of the organisers of the event, gave a detailed account
of the events of 1661, and together with other speakers stressed the continuity
between these seventeenth century figures and modern radicalism despite the
religious frame of thought through which they saw the world and perforce expressed
The group set off following the route that the rebels had taken in 1661 along
Swan Alley and into Coleman St, and like them were led by a young woman holding
a pike. A very fine banner with the text 'Who Shall Rouse Him Up'
was behind her, and there were other banners including that of Bristol
Class War, and 'Rioters Reunited', used at the 20th anniversary
of the more recent Poll Tax riots, as well as an anti-workfare banner carried
by a group in black with face masks, who also had red and black anarchist
flags. On the route the marchers shouted some of the old slogans, 'King
Jesus', 'Heads On Pikes' and 'Nobility In Chains'.
A few carried weapons - axes and a pike - as props for the filming, and there
were frequent stops to allow the camera to get into position to film the next
They looked impressive running behind the banner into Guildhall Yard, but
contented themselves with standing in front of the doors, waving weapons and
fists and shouting slogans - rather than storming the building 1661 style
- before taking off for another rampage towards the camera down King St. They
even folded up the banner to walk through New Change (now a shopping centre)
rather than risk upsetting the shoppers, before finally rushing up the steps
of St Pauls, where rather than breaking in like Venner they simply stood on
the steps for photographs before deciding it was time to pack up and go to
Northfleet & Southfleet
Northfleet, Southfleet and Gravesend, Kent. Tue 1 Jan 2013
Lake, Northfleet - with Northfleet churches above former quarry face.
I first photographed around Northfleet in the 1980s when the cement industry
was still going full-tilt, with some of the huge chalk quarries still being
worked and a great deal of industry, some already derelict, along the banks
of the River Thames. I returned to the area occasionally and in 2000-2001
made an extensive series of panoramic images, including one of this lake,
which is included in my next book, 'Thamesgate Panoramas 2000-2001'. By this
time things had begun to change dramatically - including in one former quarry
the huge Bluewater shopping complex (also in the book.) A few years later
I was back around here again, as part of a project on both sides of the river
around the Channel Tunnel rail link and further developments.
The area is still changing, and the huge cement plant I photographed between
the main road and the Thames has disappeared, replaced at the moment mainly
by empty mud and a railhead for spoil from Crosslink which is being shipped
out to form a bird reserve on Wallasea island, raising its overall level by
Today was a family walk, which tends for a route march rather than my normal
photographic derives, and we made our way down from Northfleet station to
the parish church and then along the footpath over the railway line, cursed
the detour around the high speed link and continued down past the back of
Springhead Enterprise Estate, finally found the re-routed footpath to the
back of Pepper Hill Sainsbury's and then over the A2 and two branches of the
high speed rail line before taking a very muddy track across fields to Southfleet,
where we ate lunch on a seat in the churchyard.
From there we took a slightly roundabout route vaguely eastwards along minor
roads and paths, going through Istead Rise (it did, very steeply) to meet
the Wealdway within site of Ifield Court, taking it north to Gravesend. There
was a very tedious mile or so of road from the A2 into Gravesend, but the
town is more interesting and we reached the Thames as evening fell before
making our way to the station and catching the train home. I was told we had
only done about eleven miles but it felt an awful lot more.
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