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(en) Britain, Media, Interview with two anarchists detained by special services agents on return from St-Imier conference.
Wed, 26 Sep 2012 16:14:30 +0200
What with Pussy Riot being sent to the gulag for singing a naughty song in a Church and
the Julian Assange case giving everyone an opportunity to point out Ecuador’s dubious
record on freedom of speech, here in the UK we’re feeling pretty smug about ourselves from
a civil liberties point of view. ---- But are we really a cradle of freedom? Or are we
getting a bit vainglorious for our boots? I can think of several recent UK events that
have elicited concerned noises and furrowed brows from the token liberal on Question Time.
Here’s a list off the top of my head: The pre-emptive arrests of anti-monarchists before
the Royal Wedding, the increasing militarisation of the police, the cases of Ian Tomlinson
and Alfie Meadows showing that it’s increasingly dangerous to be anywhere near a protest,
LOCOG’s corporo-fascism during the Olympics and the fact that we’re still the most watched
society in the world, with a CCTV camera on every high street/in every bedroom.
While navel-gazing about this the other day, I came across the news that two anarchists
had been detained for a couple of hours by anti-terrorism cops at the airport on the way
back from an international anarchist conference in St. Imier, Switzerland. The conference
was the 140th anniversary of a similar anarcho-circle-jerk back in 1872, which happened as
a result of the anarchists getting expelled from the global working men's organisation
First International because Marx had beef with them over a disagreement about the Paris
What interested me was the fact that the two anarchists hadn’t actually done anything.
They may look forward with glee to the edifice of the state and capitalism being crushed
under the feet of an army of angry proles, and smashing the state and capitalism is almost
certainly illegal, but for now, at least, it’s just wishful thinking on their part. The
conference itself was pretty much a talking shop and had passed a resolution condemning
terrorist tactics. So I decided to call them up for a chat to find out what it’s like
being a victim of thought crime.
So, take me through what happened.
Sean, 28, anarchist and office worker: We were flying back to Switzerland and, when we got
to customs, they spent ages messing around with my passport and made me sit down. Then a
guy in a sharp suit came up to me and told me to come with him. He said “Do you know I
am?” I replied that I assumed that it was something to do with my passport – border
control, or something. He laughed and said no. Then he made me sit in a room by myself. It
was about half an hour until they finally told me that they were SO15, which is
What happened in that half an hour?
I was just sat there. They made me empty my pockets and took my bag and mobile phone away
from me. They were saying that they could ask for any information under these anti-terror
laws and that, if I didn’t give it to them, I could get charged.
Then what happened?
They started asking questions about my politics and whether I’m an anarchist or not, what
that meant to me and whether I support any illegal activities. They wanted information on
people who go round and set fire to buildings at night. I don’t have that information, but
they said I was lying.
What was their manner like?
They were really rude. They were trying to get a response out of me by having a go at me.
One of them said, “What would you do if your mother got raped?” I can only assume that was
to try to get me angry.
Wow, really? How did they end up asking you that?
Well, they were asking me about anarchism, the police and authority. I said that, in an
anarchist world, you wouldn’t have a police force in the same way, that people would sort
things out within the community, so he asked, “What would you do if your mother got raped?”
Oh, so you were having a philosophical discussion with the police about anarchism?
Yeah. I said they had offended me and that I didn’t want to talk any more.
Why did they choose to detain you, and how did they know you’re an anarchist?
They must be monitoring us somehow. If they had been monitoring me properly they would
know that I’ve got nothing to hide.
And what happened to you, Philip?
Philip, 26, anarchist and retail worker: The questions asked of me were more bizarre. They
were asking how I get to work, my personal details, whether I’m in a relationship at the
moment, what I do when I’m not at work. So I guess they wanted to know how I get about in
my day to day life
You’re both from Bristol, which is where the Informal Anarchist Federation (IAF) sabotaged
some rail infrastructure recently. And the IAF was linked to the knee-capping of a nuclear
executive in Italy in May. Do you think that’s why you got detained?
Sean: They didn’t ask about that directly. They were asking around it, maybe they wanted
me to say something about that.
Philip: I’m guessing that might have played a part in it, but we don’t have any links to
the IAF whatsoever. I’m part of the Anarchist Federation (AF), which is rather critical of
the Informal Anarchist Federation because their ideology and tactics are quite dangerous.
They endanger the lives of workers and innocent people.
Maybe the police got confused by all these acronyms. But you are an anarchist and
anarchism is about revolution – potentially violent revolution.
If you look at the aims and principles of the AF, we’re not the ones who are going to
start the revolution, or try to start it. It’s up to the people of this country to decide
that enough is enough and they don’t want to have government or capital any more – it’s
not up to us to decide that.
There are other reasons for the police to be concerned about the Bristol anarchist
community. Obviously you are aware of the riots in Stokes Croft in April last year and
anarchists have been involved in a lot of protests recently. And, because of the
criminalisation of squatting, there have been quite a few confrontations between the
police and the anarchist community on that issue as well. But these gatherings were not,
in any sense of the word, illegal. The purpose of the gathering at St. Imier was for
different anarchist groups from around the world to discuss how they’re organising and
what they see as their idea of anarchism. Even the locals were happy to have the gathering
in the village.
But the police do stop terrorism. Maybe there would have been more 7/7 type scenarios
without these laws, and the police occasionally overstepping the mark is a price we have
7/7 was a tragedy, but it’s not the first time this country has experienced terrorism. And
not just from Islamic fundamentalists, but from the Irish Republicans, as well. What makes
terrorism today different? Why do they justify an increase in police powers when there
have been worse attacks in the past? All these new laws coming in to combat extremism are
becoming a lot more, er, extreme.
Having spoken to Sean and Philip, I phoned up the police for their take on it. They said
the guys had been detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorist Act 2000, which means they
can detain whoever they want “without the need for any suspicion of prior authority” and
ask basically anything, or else you might find yourself in the clink or hit with a fine.
In fact, they're allowed to detain people for up to nine hours and strip search them, so
Sean and Philip got off fairly lightly.
This isn’t the first time the cops have cracked down on people for having rebellious
thoughts. Back in July 2011, the Westminster police asked residents to grass up their
neighbours if they thought they were anarchists. Sean and Philip’s experience was hardly
like something from Mubarak’s Egypt, but should the police have any say on what I get to
think about in my own head? If we weren’t allowed to think outside the box, humanity would
still be shivering in a cave trying to get the most out of a mammoth carcass and fending
off Neanderthals. I reckon the police should cut this shit out.
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