Posts Tagged ‘Compton Dando’

Secular Talk: Judge Has Journalist Arrested for Using Freedom of Information Act

July 10, 2016

It seems that freedom of the press is under attack all around the world. Erdogan, the wannabe Ottoman Sultan of Turkey, has made himself notorious for jailing anyone, journalist or not, who dares criticise him. John Kampfner, in his book, Freedom for Sale, describes the clampdown on press and media freedom across the world, in Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Singapore, Dubai and Russia. And now America. In this piece from Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski comments on a Vice Report about the arrest of a journalist in the US state of Georgia, Mark Thomason, and his lawyer, Russell Stookey, by the chief judge of Pickens County superior Court, Brenda Weaver. Thomason’s the publisher of a small, local newspaper, Fannin Focus. They were arrested on charges of identity fraud and making false statements. Thomason’s real crime was making official requests for public documents on illegally cashed cheques. He and Stookey also issued subpoenas to the court’s banks to get them to provide information on this issue. Weaver claims that Thomason made false statements when filing the official requests, and that he did not ask her permission, when issuing the subpoenas, and so was attempting to steal that information on the banking details. Weaver also stated that she resented Thomason’s weekly attacks on her character in his paper, saying, ‘I don’t react well when my honesty is questioned.’

Kulinski points out that this is indirect violation of the amendments in the Constitution guaranteeing the freedom of the press. He points out that she had the two arrested not for slander or libel, but simply because she didn’t like what he said about her. She is the criminal in this case, who for her attack on one of America’s fundamental freedoms should be jailed instead of the journo and his lawyer.

I know this is an American case, but I’m posting it because, along with the good and noble stuff we’ve had come across the Pond – MLK, Civil Rights, the Freedom of Information Act, and Elvis – our politicians seem determined also to pick up every wretched, degrading idea as well. Like workfare, which first emerged under the Republicans, and was being touted over here by the Conservatives under Thatcher. Mike and the other disability activists have been given the run-around by the DWP when they’ve tried to use in the British Freedom of Information Act to get the info on the number of disabled people, who’ve died after being wrongly declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos and its successor, Maximus. The DWP first of all declared that the requests were frivolous. Then, when this was overturned on appeal, they delayed releasing the information, and waited till almost the very last minute before appealing against the decision, and then, after they were told to release it, they cavilled against the terms of the request, and deliberately misinterpreted them so that they could issue the wrong information.

And then Ian Duncan Smith had the sheer audacity to pretend to break out in tears during an interview with Ian Hislop on Channel 4, to show he genuinely cared about the unemployed. This was after he and his boss, David Cameron, were shown having a jolly old guffaw in parliament when a Labour MP was reading out tales of the hardship the government sanctions had caused. They looked like the Chuckle Brothers, if those stalwarts of British children’s television had made the weird decision to make their characters grotesque old Etonian snobs.

And then the Tories a few months ago held an inquiry on making the terms of the Freedom of Information Act even narrower, so the public would not be able to get access to so much government information. They did so, because they didn’t like the power it gave citizens like Mike and so many other activists to challenge government decisions. Rather than being used for this purpose, the government issued a statement that the information provided under the Act should only be used to understand how a decision was made. In other words, shut up, you proles, and obey.

If Brenda Weaver gets away with this in America, I can see it spreading to this country. You can read in Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column, week in, week out, reports of how local authorities up and down Britain have tried to imprison ordinary people for daring to criticise them on blogs, in the press and even for notices they’ve put on the windows of their own property. In one particularly hilarious incident down here in the West Country, a parish councillor in Compton Dando went berserk and was trying to have arrested the appalling felon, who stuck a picture of him as Adolf Hitler in the local public call box. The fiend! But I can see the big boys and girls further up the food chain – Cameron, IDS, Jeremy Hunt and now Theresa May, as being equally, if not more eager, to have journalists arrested for spreading the wrong message, if they could. The DWP’s constant delays and appeals under IDS certainly shows that it doesn’t want to co-operate in releasing embarrassing information. And I can see IDS ordering the arrest of journalists under trumped up charges for maligning him, if he could get away with it. This is the man, after all, who turns up in parliament with an armed guard, just in case he’s attacked by a squad of elite ninja disabled people and their careers. This is the man, after all, who has made up lie after lie about himself, having qualifications he does not possess and serving as a major in the army, when he was returned to unit. Probably. Just before he left the DWP he was whining about getting the blame for welfare-to-work, when it was Labour that invented it. Well, so they did, but he could have discontinued it. He didn’t, and so he deserves the condemnation he got. And the probable new leader of the Tories, Theresa May, is an authoritarian, who wants access to everyone’s internet and phone data. Just in case we’re all members of ISIS or paedos.

If this gang of would-be tyrants think they can get away with arresting people for using the Freedom of Information Act, they will.

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RIPA and the Further Erosion of Free Speech and Democracy

November 27, 2014

The Coalition’s ‘Secret Courts’

Mike, Tom Pride, the Angry Yorkshireman, Johnny Void and other left-wing bloggers too numerous to name have all raised the serious concerns presented by the Coalition’s legislation expanding Britain’s surveillance state. These have included secret courts, a Kafkaesque travesty of justice waiting to happen, where the defendant may not even know the charges against them if this is deemed a threat to ‘national security’.

Internet Censorship

Under the pretext of trying to protect vulnerable children from online pornography and paedophiles, the Coalition has also tried to introduce censorship onto the internet with measures so loose and ill-worded that it threatened to stifle mature political discussion and contemporary pagan religion and alternative spirituality and occultism. Tom Pride suffered censorship at the hands of the Net because his blog had ‘adult content’. It has, but not quite in the way the term’s used by censors and the media, where it’s become a euphemism for nudity and sex. Pride’s ‘adult content’ is more in the way of dealing with adult issues using satire and scorn.

This has been waaaay too much for the forces of the Right. More recently he’s had Daily Mail journalists harassing his friends and trying to out him as a Conservative Brit living in Poland. This shows, if nothing else, how desperate they are to smear him.

Police Harassment of Greens and Film-Makers for UKIP and the Frackers

And then there was the case of the local Green activist, who had his collar felt by the rozzers on the behest of the local branch of UKIP. And last week NetPol, the campaign against police surveillance, reported the case of a documentary film-maker, who was interviewed by the police because she had been filming an anti-fracking demonstration, and was therefore considered a dangerous terrorist.

Derby Council’s Surveillance of Workers Talking to Journos

This fortnight’s issue of Private Eye (28th November – 11th December 2014) carries another sobering story about the way RIPA, the new legislation introduced by the government to allow the authorities to snoop on ‘terrorists, fly-tippers’ and people, who don’t clean up the mess when their dogs foul the pavement, has been used in Derby to spy on a local journalist doing her job. According to a speech to the House of Lords by Lord Black of Brentwood, the disgraced former head of the Telegraph group, Derby city council tried to use the new powers to spy on a group of serving and former council employees, who met Kirsty Green, a reporter from the Derby Evening Telegraph, in Starbucks. A senior council employee apparently stumbled on the meeting when he went in there. He reported it to the council, and then invoked the act to have two ‘investigators’ come to engage in ‘direct surveillance’ as part of ‘an internal personnel investigation’. The spies were, however, recognised by the group when they entered the shop, and Green and the employees left.

The Eye’s piece concludes that this episode is ‘more Clouseau than Ceaucescu, perhaps, but sinister nonetheless.

Local Councils and the Campaign against Free Speech

In fact, this has been only one of a number of case where local authorities have wasted time and tax-payers money clamping down on local dissidents, like some jumped-up petty Gestapo. The more infamous cases include how one northern city spent hundreds of pounds of council tax trying to find out who the ‘Mr Monkey’ was posting critical pieces on the internet so they could sue him and close him down. Private citizens and shopkeepers have been threatened when they put up posters criticising the local authorities on the windows of their own homes or businesses. Ten years or so ago, one of the councils in Kent got very stroppy with one individual who dared to put up posters denouncing a technology deal between the council and Richard Branson.

Hitler is Alive and Well and Living in Compton Dando

One of the most ludicrous and petty attempts to stifle free speech in a very local area was reported by the Eye a few years ago. A Conservative member of the parish council for Compton Dando had been infuriated by anonymous posters put up around the village portraying him as Hitler. He therefore demanded the police find arrest the culprit. Such is the vanity and totalitarian need to control of even some of the most minor politicos. Of course, it goes without saying that by demanding the police act to arrest a political opponent, the Conservative councillor therefore proved his opponent’s case: he was like Adolf.

There’s thus the real danger that RIPA will lead to more attempts by the authorities to stop the free discussion and criticism of their rule. It’s another step in the gradual erosion of free speech in the UK.