The arrest of 114 environmental activists in Nottingham in the early hours of yesterday morning in a massive police raid on a school in the city, represents a sinister state crack-down on the right to protest and should be condemned outright by everyone who wants to defend human rights and civil liberties.
How else can you explain the deployment of over 100 police from four counties, many in riot gear, to seal off a residential area of the city before launching what was essentially a political raid on a group of young people preparing for a protest action at the nearby Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station?
The employment of catch-all conspiracy laws to justify the mass arrests is also a serious turn of events. These laws, under which people can be sentenced to extremely lengthy jail terms, are normally used in the case of extremely serious offences carried out or planned by two more persons.
In this case, the use of conspiracy laws is aimed at sending a simple, clear message from the authorities: you are allowed to march from A to B and then go home; but if you want to take direct, more militant action to reinforce your message, then the state can and will take pre-emptive action to stop you on the grounds that you are allegedly “conspiring” against private property such as a power station. The fact that the 114 have since been released on bail only reinforces this point.
The police action in Nottingham also indicates that state agents had infiltrated the eco-campaigners group and supplied information to the police. Perhaps these agents even encouraged certain kinds of action in order to try and justify the police raid. Naturally, the power company E.On, which owns Ratcliffe, was extremely happy with the police action, claiming without any evidence that what had been prevented was a “a very dangerous and irresponsible attempt to disrupt an operational power plant".
A pattern is rapidly emerging in Britain whereby the state is using its mailed fist to hit out at activists. Last summer, the Climate Camp in Kent was subjected to systematic intimidation and harassment in a multi-million pound police operation involving helicopters and countless police photographers.
During the G20 economic summit in London, protesters in the City of London were corralled inside a small area and prevented from leaving the cordon by thousands of police. A passer-by, newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson, was shoved to the ground by police and eyewitnesses also say he was hit with a baton before he collapsed and died.
In these circumstances, it is simply not good enough for Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, to circumscribe her remarks over the Nottingham raid by reportedly saying: "In the light of the policing of the G20 protests, people up and down the country will want to be confident that there was evidence of a real conspiracy to commit criminal damage by those arrested and that this was not just an attempt by the police to disrupt perfectly legitimate protest per se."
No, Shami, we are not confident in the police “case”. And why should we be? If the police knew so much, why didn’t they stop people at the power station perimeter fence? Instead, the police preferred to devote huge resources in a co-ordinated police raid that is normally used on anti-terror operations. No wonder really serious crimes go unsolved.
The real conspiracy is that the state is protecting a government that is doing nothing effective about climate change despite scientists stepping up their warnings about the dire consequences of inaction. Little wonder that young people in particular feel that something more dramatic than signing petitions is required, even if direct actions in themselves can’t really alter the situation where New Labour insists that the same economic forces that produced global warming will somehow solve the crisis.
We must halt the march to full-scale authoritarian rule that the Nottingham arrests signifies and redouble efforts to campaign for a new, democratic state that actually guarantees and enforces human rights in place of a capitalist state that is obliterating them one by one.
AWTW communications editor