Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Democracy Watch UK
February 2005 ~A spokesman for Amnesty International has said: "Just as the internet is a tool for freedom, so it is being used as an excuse for repression"
The Committee to Protect Bloggers (opens in new window) is asking those with blogs to dedicate their sites on Tuesday to the "Free Mojtaba and Arash Day".
Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad are both in prison in Iran. It is salutary to remember that this website can say what it likes - to the relief of many and to the irritation of many. However, there is a growing backlash among powerful authoritarians against Freedom of Speech. We would be wise not to take it for granted - or to think that freedom of speech is a right we need not bother to defend.
BBC "Amnesty International has recorded a growing number of cases of people detained or imprisoned for disseminating their beliefs or information through the internet, in countries such as China, Syria, Vietnam, the Maldives, Cuba, Iran and Zimbabwe.
It is also shocking to realise that in the communications age just expressing support for an internet activist is enough to land people in jail."
Many companies offer easy-to-use 'templating software' to create a blog and publish it in minutes to a global community. See, for example, http://www.blogger.com/start
February 2005 ~ Conspiring in torture, betraying our freedom. Charles Clarke is a disaster
"On friday the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, will ask the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders to help him to infringe the rule of law. He will tell them of a threat facing Britain that is greater than anything since Hitler. There are people out there, he said last month, who “want to kill hundreds and thousands of people who are innocent of everything”. Surely Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy will not want to impede urgent legislation — and just before an election?
Mr Clarke is emerging as one of the weakest home secretaries of modern times. He has capitulated to the dark forces behind every government who do not care a cat’s whisker for civil liberty. He wants to allow himself (which means them) to impose “control orders” on anyone he (which means they) choose. The victims may be Muslims, Irish, animal rights activists or anyone the Home Secretary “suspects of terror”. Mr Clarke wants curfews, electronic tags, internet and phone bugs and restrictions on contacts, all without court orders. Yesterday he withdrew passports from two British former Guantanamo inmates without explanation. He eschews the phrase “house arrest”, preferring to “restrict people to the premises where they live”. Authoritarians love euphemisms.
......... Mr Clarke is about to deny British citizens their freedom on the possible say-so of an Uzbek sadist, a Syrian thug or an electrode-wielding Egyptian. A British court says he can do this provided only that a chap from MI6 is not involved — which I would have considered a safeguard. I cannot see what conceivable weight can be put on such “intelligence”. At least in Tosca’s day Scarpia was in the next room. Even assuming that Mr Clarke’s conscience has gone to sleep, what has happened to his brain?
Control orders are a deep offence to British justice. Despite being based on unreliable intelligence and “outsourced” torture, they will become entrenched, like all past “prevention of terror” laws. They will alienate the Muslim population and make martyrs of hoodlums. No court can treat their evidence as usable. As America and Germany show, this will severely compromise the bringing of real terrorists to justice.
Mr Clarke may think that he is hanging tough for his boss at election time. But he is making Britain less free and less safe. Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy should have nothing to do with him on Friday." Read in full
February 2005 ~ How even the Chief Scientific Adviser was gagged by Number 10
- An article from last March in the Independent reveals how Number 10 controls what is said to the press and media. In March, Ivan Rogers, Mr Blair's principal private secretary, told Sir David King to limit his contact with the media after he made outspoken comments about President George Bush's policy on climate change. He was told:
- "....to decline any interview requests from British and American newspapers and BBC Radio 4's Today ....Sir David, who is highly regarded by Mr Blair, has been primed with a list of 136 mock questions that the media could ask if they were able to get access to him, and the suggested answers he should be prepared to give....
The leaked memo came to light after a computer disk was discovered by an American freelance journalist, Mike Martin, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle, where Sir David gave a lecture.
Mr Rogers' memo, written a few days before the Seattle conference, was aimed at limiting his exposure to questions from US and British media. While in Seattle, Sir David sat on a panel of scientists at one carefully stage-managed press conference, but his press office said he was too busy to give interviews afterwards to journalists. .." Read in full
February 2005 ~Sir Alistair Graham: 'Tony Blair and the Government are open to the charge they want to control everything'
The Monday Interview: Independent
When he became chairman last year, some people dismissed the former chairman of the Police Complaints Authority as an establishment figure who would balk at criticising ministers.
But nine months on, Whitehall feathers have been ruffled and ministerial egos bruised. ......
- "The danger for the Prime Minister and the Government is that they are open to the charge they want to control everything,"
"The public said to us they wanted politicians to tell the truth as it is, in the commonsense meaning of that."
"Our survey showed that in key areas, for example, cronyism in public appointments, there was a perception that things had got worse rather than got better. "
......."All of us in our role as citizens have the right to ask tough questions and be sceptical about what people in authority may tell us"
One way of rebuilding trust would be for the Government to be more open about releasing its policy papers.
The use of clear language is another way of restoring trust, and one Sir Alistair wants to pursue.
With a general election looming, the issues of trust, standards and integrity will be high on the political agenda, and there are no signs that Sir Alistair is prepared to step back from the debate......
With rumours rife in Whitehall of a ministerial whispering campaign against him, is he worried by the Government's spin machine? The Geordie sleaze-buster shrugs and smiles. "I am not worried," he says. "It comes with the territory."
6/7 February 2005 ~ “What is he really saying? Provided somebody raises the words ‘national security’ you can do anything to anyone? But is that not exactly the same that any right wing dictatorship has ever said?"
- Will Charles Clarke learn to regret his words following Martin Mubanga's claims that British secret services played a crucial role in his abduction and that British intelligence officials played a key role in consigning him to Guantanamo Bay. Mr Clarke thought fit to say "I am absolutely unapologetic in saying it, that anybody in my job has to have national security at the centre of their concerns. And if there are people who threaten national security, it is necessary to deal with that and address it in a very rigorous way. ....”
Fair Trials Abroad director Stephen Jakobi responded angrily saying national security was no excuse to “rush out trying to lock up people and torture them”... “What is he really saying? Provided somebody raises the words ‘national security’ you can do anything to anyone? But is that not exactly the same that any right wing dictatorship has ever said?" See Scotsman
6 February 2005 ~ Sir Humphrey's top tips
- by Roland White in the Sunday Times
- On no account attempt to reply within the stipulated 20 days. You know how unreliable the post can be these days.
- In the unlikely event of a further inquiry, respond that you must first consult widely within the department.
- Consult widely. Refer the application up, refer it across, refer it down, refer it to the necessary ministers, refer it to the necessary former ministers. Do not expect any early replies. Remember, they too will have read these guidelines.
- On receiving the results of your consultation, deploy the catch-22 defence. Write to the applicant in hand-wringing tones to say that, alas, they have not been specific enough. What is it exactly that they want? If they knew what they wanted, they wouldn’t need to ask for it.
- If the applicant still persists, say that the documents required must be examined by legal advisers to consider the public interest. If you can’t think of anything else, insist that there are human rights issues.
- You know what legal folk are like. This step could take years.
- Announce in delighted tones that the application has cleared all the necessary stages: administrative, consultative, legal. But the decision has been taken to withhold the material.
- If the applicant obtains a legal notice demanding the release of the information, inform the relevant cabinet minister. He or she can always issue a veto blocking the release of the information.
- If all else fails, revert to Whitehall Emergency Plan 3b: “We regret that the documents in question are no longer available as they were accidentally shredded by a junior clerk on work experience.”
4 February 2005 ~
ID cards 'could fall foul of human rights law'
Telegraph "Compulsory national identity cards raise "serious questions" about the protection of individual privacy under human rights law, MPs and peers said yesterday.
The Government's plans could also breach legislation forbidding discrimination by making some people subject to the ID regime while others are, for the time being, exempt. In a report, the joint parliamentary committee on human rights casts fresh doubt on Government claims that an ID card would help tackle crime, terrorism and illegal immigration.
It points out that the phased introduction of the cards and the accompanying National Identity Register will mean that a compulsory scheme, with penalties for non-compliance, will exist alongside a voluntary one.
From 2007, anyone renewing a passport will automatically be issued with an ID card and number, while those who do not need a new passport or do not possess one will not be subject to the regime..........
Simon Hughes, of the Liberal Democrats, said: "This committee expresses deep dissatisfaction that the Government has not explained how its ID card plans are compatible with human rights."
2 February 2005 ~ Government attacked for 'hypocritical' attitude to Freedom of Information Act
By Robert Verkaik and Marie Woolf in the Independent
"Ministers' promises to usher in a new age of freedom of information have failed to materialise, with scores of requests to open the Government to public scrutiny being rejected.
Scores of requests have been refused and some departments have been using stock replies to deny access to information, issuing refusal letters to different people using identical wording.
Of the 70 inquiries made by The Independent only 10 have been successful. Almost half were turned down flat; the remainder are still awaiting reply.
In two of the replies the Government conceded that it had breached its own legislation by failing to meet the deadline of 20 working days that expired yesterday. Ministers also admitted they had no idea how many of the 362 requests made on the first day the legislation came into force had been answered. Yet, in 2000, Labour postponed the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act by four years to give government departments and 100,000 public bodies more time to prepare for the new right of access.
.." Read in full. The article compares "Freedom of Information" here with elsewhere in the West. See also Independent's "Is this freedom of information?"
30 January 2005 ~ "the most audacious ministerial power grab ever tried in peacetime. .."
- "....the really sinister aspect of Mr Clarke's proposals is the lack of any judicial supervision over 'control orders' in the gift of the Home Secretary alone. Mr Clarke has made a last-ditch choice for nations at war into a policy of first resort.
Memories of Auschwitz highlight how easily comfortable civilisations tip into tyranny, but few people seriously worry that getting heavy with a few terrorist suspects will usher in a police state. And so Britain, thinking itself vigilant, grows complacent. It is easy, while paying homage to the past, to think of hatred and persecution as museum pieces. They are not....
.. .Mr Clarke's measures would make it more, not less, likely that Bluewater or any other shopping centre gets blown up. They would feed the glee of Islamic extremists satisfied that liberal Western governments are as cowardly and oppressive as the overlords of terror always preached.
Internment without trial harms the incarcerated, taints the free and delivers victory to agents of turmoil. Home Secretaries are fond of saying that parliament, not judges, makes the law. It will be for parliament to halt a measure that would storm the narrow borderline where democracy stops and tyranny begins." Mary Riddell in the Observer
30 January 2005 ~ "..By its over- reliance on spin, its corruption of the civil service and its mendacious presentation of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the government has lost its reputation for honesty.
- Without trust, many people simply will not believe that the Home Office has a case for detaining suspects when it fails to produce evidence. ..." Leading article in Sunday Times
28 January 2005 ~ "The Home Secretary's plan to intern British citizens without trial stinks. He must know it. His colleagues must know it.
- Sir Simon Jenkins in the Times.
"Some politicians need to have their heads banged and their ears shoved to the ground so they can hear the echoing drumbeats of history. Yesterday I listened to Charles Clarke trying to defend his proposals on the radio. He sounded miserable and unconvincing. He implied that his critics were ignorant of some massive threat known only to him and his secret advisers. He seemed in thrall to forces of darkness which lurk deep within all governments but which stronger politicians hold in check. ..
Those high on the narcotic of power lose their nose for right and wrong. Mr Clarke says he will use his powers “reasonably”. All authoritarians say that. He may not eat babies or beat Arabs in Belmarsh with rubber truncheons. But when four tortured British citizens were freed from Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday — imprisoned under the same rules as Mr Clarke espouses — he casually incarcerated them a further day, lest the dark ones think him soft on terror. It was a gesture of puerile cruelty.
Mr Clarke appeals to “the intelligence community” as his guide in assaulting British liberty. That community is on probation as the most tarnished in Whitehall. The dossiers used to create a climate of fear before the Iraq invasion were entirely false. Yet their authors are Mr Clarke’s best friends in deciding who is to be called a terrorist. For Mr Clarke to use them as a test of “reasonableness” is unbelievable.
For two years intelligence has been used by Downing Street as an agency of public fear. Britons have been threatened by “intelligence” with sarin, anthrax, smallpox and nuclear attack. Last month the authorities warned Londoners of a “significant threat” of a “Bali-style” bomb in a nightclub, cinema or theatre. This casual scaremongering may have hit West End profits for a while. Coming from the people who brought us the dodgy dossiers and the weekly “Tube menances” they were crass. Yet Mr Clarke is suspending habeas corpus on their say-so.
..... hands up those who think a majority of MPs will boldly cry “Liberty” and walk through the division lobby to stop Mr Clarke’s monstrous arrogation of power. Not a hope."
27 January 2005 ~
Lord Hoffmann suggested that the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act itself was a bigger threat to the nation than terrorism.
- We are not reassured that the government proposes that the eleven foreign terror suspects held without trial for three years at Belmarsh, Woodhill and Broadmoor are to be "released without charge" since new civil orders could be granted using secret evidence gathered by the police and intelligence services which still need not to be disclosed to the suspect. Proposals would extend the Government's emergency terror laws to British citizens but still require the Government to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights. See Independent report in full.
The new "control orders" will be imposed by the Home Secretary, and not by a court of law. ".. Suspects will be subject to curfews, tagging and a potential requirement "to remain at their premises", or house arrest. These conditions will restrict movement, restrict association and communication with "named individuals" and limit access to telephones, the internet or other technology." Independent
To echo Scott Ritter, "Where is our shame and rage?"