Category Archives: campaigns & events

government is trying to make fracking just as easy as putting up a garden shed! join campaign to oppose fast-track fracking

The following sections are drawn from pages of the Frack Free Ryedale campaign website.

The government are planning to make non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas Permitted Development, which means fracking companies won’t need local planning permission to build a 1.5-hectare exploratory well site. They are also planning to make full scale industrial fracking a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), which means the decisions regarding whether or not fracking is allowed will be made by the Secretary of State and a Planning Inspector – not your local council planning authority.

This is nothing less than an assault on local democracy on an unprecedented scale and would result in local communities left without a voice about whether their countryside should be fracked.

This desperate attempt to bypass local democracy shows that the Conservative government have realised that they are never going to get ‘social licence’ for this unwanted, unsafe and unnecessary industry. Rather than put their support behind renewables, they seem intent on forcing fracking on unwilling communities, and at the same time ignoring the huge weight of evidence of the harm this industry causes, and their own climate change commitments.

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

Please sign this 38 Degrees petition, and then share with friends and family.

Please also sign this Friends of the Earth petition, and you can sign up for webinars and resources from FoE here.

For the sake of our countryside fracking should be stopped immediately. This is the only way our beautiful country can avoid becoming a contaminated wasteland.

Click here to reach the Frack Free Ryedale Permitted Development & NSIP campaign page.

Please note: the ‘consultations’ linked above use technical language and appear to be deliberately obscure. Frack Free Ryedale intends to post guidelines on how to respond in near future – I shall update but meanwhile click here to sign up for newsletters.

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Q + A on permitted development and NSIP

Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is Permitted Development?

Permitted Development is the part of the UK planning system which allows people to carry out low-impact improvements on their property without having to apply for planning permission. It was introduced in 1948 to enable people to make modest improvements on their homes without having to apply to the council.

What kind of things can people do to their houses under Permitted Development rules?

Typical home improvements you can undertake under permitted development rules are converting your loft into a bedroom, moving a door or a window, putting up a fence, adding a conservatory or building a garden shed.

That’s all very interesting. But what’s this got to do with fracking?

On 17th May the Government issued a Written Ministerial Statement which proposes that non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas should be considered Permitted Development, and therefore would not require planning permission from the local council.

What do they mean by ‘non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas’?

Before companies can frack, they need to build a well-pad and drill an exploratory well, which will then be used to take core samples of the rock about 2 miles below the surface. These are typically about 1.5 hectares in size, require hundreds of truck movements to construct, involve drilling day and night for weeks and installing a drilling rig of up to 125 ft in height.

So you’re telling me the government wants the planning system to treat a fracking well-pad in the same way as a garden shed?

You are correct. If the government gets its way, fracking companies will be able to put one of these 1.5-hectare well-pads – with all the traffic, noise, pollution and other issues that come with such a development – only a few hundred metres from your home, school, town or village without having to apply to the local council for planning permission.

That’s crazy. Why on earth would they be proposing such a move?

There are lots of reasons, but the main one is probably because in every single place where fracking is proposed, local communities are up in arms about it and raising all sorts of objections to the industrialisation of their local area and the threat fracking poses to their health, environment and water. This has resulted in thousands of objections from local people to every fracking application, and concerted opposition from almost everyone apart from the fracking companies themselves.

This widespread and unceasing opposition to fracking has meant that some applications for exploratory drilling have been refused, others have been challenged in court, and those that have been allowed have been the focus of widespread peaceful demonstrations. So, rather like the school bully complaining to the teacher that someone has stolen his lunch, fracking companies appear to have gone to the government to complain that local residents and democratically elected local councils are slowing down their attempts to frack.

This permitted development ruse is therefore a way for fracking companies (and the pro-fracking Conservative government) to bypass the pesky planning system run by locally elected councils and force fracking on unwilling communities.

This doesn’t seem to be in line with the Government’s stated commitment to encouraging localism and letting the local community have the final say.

That’s true, and perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects to these proposals is that the government seems happy to ignore local democracy and accountability in their desperation to kick-start the failing fracking industry in the UK.

For a political party this is a risky step, particularly when many of the areas that are being threatened, such as North Yorkshire, are run by Conservative majority councils. And worryingly for the government, a recent survey of Conservative Councillors showed that 80% were opposed to making exploratory fracking Permitted Development. And of course Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and many Independents are implacably opposed to fracking anyway, and would ban the practice if they had half a chance.

Is this permitted development rule now enshrined in the laws of the land? 

No, not yet. The Government launched a public consultation on Permitted Development on the final afternoon of Parliament before the summer recess (a cynic would suggest this was to avoid comment or criticism ). We will be posting guidelines on how to respond to this before the October 25th deadline soon but in the meantime, please see the Let Communities Decide website for how to get involved in the campaign against permitted development. You can also read this summary of all the reasons this is a bad idea on this Friends of the Earth briefing.

And if you are moved to write to your MP and councillors to raise your concerns about this, please see our guidelines on our Campaign Page by clicking here.

But this permitted development would just be for exploratory drilling, right? If a company then wanted to establish a multi-well fracking site for commercial production, they’d still need to apply for planning permission, wouldn’t they?

Currently, that is true. However, it would be a very brave council that would refuse permission for production if commercially viable quantities of gas were found during the exploratory phase, particularly as by then the well pad would already be in place. And even if they did, their decision would most likely get overturned on appeal by the Secretary of State anyway. But just in case, the government have a plan for that too. It’s called NSIP.

Hmm, acronyms are never good. What does NSIP stand for?

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. The Written Ministerial Statement also proposes that full scale industrial fracking becomes an NSIP, which would mean that even full-scale commercial production would not need local planning permission, as it would all be decided and imposed by the Secretary of State and the government-appointed Planning Inspectorate. And yes, there is also consultation on NSIP in the summer.

It sounds to me like the government realise that they have completely lost the argument over fracking, and have decided that they are just going to force it on people anyway.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. But all is not lost. This is causing a huge controversy and this is not in place yet. Many groups up and down the land are fighting this and opposition to these outrageous and undemocratic plans are growing every day.

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So, what can I do to stop this happening?

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

One of the most important things you can do is contact your MP and local councillors asking them to oppose the government’s plans to fast-track fracking and bypass local democracy. There is already a great deal of opposition to these proposals across all parties, with a recent survey showing that 80% of Conservative councillors oppose their own party’s Permitted Development plans.

And please visit the Let Communities Decide website for information on the campaign against Permitted Development, for updates on how to help and downloadable materials to help you campaign. You can also sign up for updates from Let Communities Decide by clicking here.

How do I find out who my MP and councillors are?

YOUR MP – To find out your MP’s name and contact details, please click here. You can also Google him/her to find out their local constituency office, which is useful if you want to go and meet your MP [click here to find advice on this at the Frack Free Ryedale website].

COUNCILLORS – To find out who your local councillors are, please visit the website of your local county council. It should be fairly easy to find the name(s) and contact details of your councillor(s). You can contact your Town Councillors and/or Parish Councillors too.

Here, is a template letter produced as part of the #FrackturedCommunities campaign that is run by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, (CPRE).

Click here to read the full page at the Frack Free Ryedale website.

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Some responses from environmental groups

Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

“It’s as if the government doesn’t realise the scale of the opposition. If they press ahead with these proposals, the protests, outrage and anger from local people across the country will undoubtedly intensify.

“These proposals would be a complete perversion of the planning system and trample over the rights of local communities – all to fast-track an industry bringing environmental risks that would massively outweigh any suggested ‘benefit’ to our energy security.”

Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner said:

“Fracking companies cannot be allowed to drill at will; without the need to apply for planning permission and precious little involvement from the local community.

“It’s absurd that planning rules originally designed for minor home improvements, like putting up a garden shed, could now be used for major drilling infrastructure.

“Our countryside and our climate are at serious risk if the government pushes ahead with these plans. We need to be moving away from fossil fuels, not make it easier for companies to dig up more.”

The campaign group, Frack Free United, said:

“This consultation is probably the most important issue for the anti-fracking movement this summer.

It represents a clear and present danger to the UK’ ability to meet its climate change targets. It drives a coach and horses through local democracy for the sake of fossil fuels.”

Sebastian Kelly, 350.org UK Fracking Outreach Organiser, said:

“The government’s proposal to allow free rein to fracking in the British countryside flies in the face of local democracy and threatens to slash community involvement in decision-making. The fact that the supposedly “public” consultation is being opened without informing those who need to be consulted is in blatant disregard of citizens’ right to be heard.”

Barbara Richardson, member of Roseacre Awareness Group, said:

“The government and industry have already lost the argument on fracking. It’s unpopular, risky, and increasingly financially unviable. Fracking has already been stopped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and council after council have stood against development in their areas. These planning proposals are a desperate last ditch attempt to kickstart the industry in the UK – and it’s communities like mine who will pay the price.”

All quotes reposted from Drill or Drop article entitled “Government seeks views on proposals to bypass local council control of shale gas schemes” written by Ruth Hayhurst, published on July 19th.

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Peter Hitchens calls for immediate action to stop the rush to war

I would not ordinarily repost extended passages from articles in the Daily Mail without further comment, but we have entered an exceptional time in history and I believe it is vital that Peter Hitchen’s message (published yesterday) is heard widely so that enough of us will be encouraged to follow his advice. Everything below is taken from Hitchen’s original article which is also linked at the end.

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Please write to your MP now without delay — War, terrible war, may be on the way again.

WMD All Over Again: Our Government moves stealthily towards a new war of choice.

IS war coming? This is the traditional season of the year for plunges into war by British governments which mislead themselves and the country about the extent and nature of what is proposed. […]

This week, the Middle East is in a state of grave and dangerous tension. The huge Sunni Muslim oil power, Saudi Arabia, armed and/or backed diplomatically by Britain, France and the USA, is ever more hostile to Shia Muslim Iran, another oil power not as great but still as important, which is close and growing closer to Russia and China.

Bear in Mind as you consider this that Russia is also a European power, and engaged in a conflict with the EU and NATO in formerly non-aligned Ukraine, after the EU’s aggressive attempt to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and NATO’s incessant eastward expansion into formerly neutral territory. There are several points at which Western troops are now remarkably close to Russian borders, for instance they are about 80 miles from St Petersburg (the distance from London to Coventry), and the US Navy is building a new Black Sea base at Ochakov, 308 miles from the Russian naval station at Sevastopol. Just as the First World War (at root a conflict between Russia and Germany) spread like a great red stain over much of Europe and the Middle East , an Iran-Saudi war could easily spread into Europe itself.

The two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not yet in direct combat with each other, but fight through proxies in Yemen and Syria. It would not take much for this to become a direct war, at least as destructive in the region as the Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988, during which the ‘West’ tended to side with Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein, who had started the war and incidentally used chemical weapons at Halabja in 1988, against the Kurds. The attitude of the British Foreign Office towards this atrocity was interesting: They flatly declined to get outraged, saying: ‘We believe it better to maintain a dialogue with others if we want to influence their actions.

‘Punitive measures such as unilateral sanctions would not be effective in changing Iraq’s behaviour over chemical weapons, and would damage British interests to no avail.’

The Foreign Office knows very well that its job is to defend British interests abroad, at more or less any cost. These days it seems to have concluded that British interests involve almost total subjection to the wishes of Saudi Arabia. So their current stance of supposed total horror on the subject of Chemical Weapons, especially when (as was not the case in Halabja) their use has not been established beyond doubt, may be less than wholly genuine. You’d have to ask them, but in any case I ask you to bear this half-forgotten episode in mind as you read this exchange from the House of Commons Hansard for Monday 10th September, an exchange barely reported in the media. It resulted from an urgent question asked by Stephen Doughty MP, and answered without any apparent reluctance by Alistair Burt, who I learn to my surprise is officially entitled the ‘Minister for the Middle East’. Does the Iranian Foreign Ministry have a Minister for North-West Europe, I wonder? The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

But I am especially interested in this exchange, Mr Burt’s response to a clever question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. I have had rude things to say about and to Ms Thornberry, but in this case she is doing her job properly and should be applauded for it. The emphases are mine:

‘Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on securing it. I can only echo what he said about the terrible bloodshed and humanitarian crisis that is looming in Idlib, the urgency for all sides to work to find some form of peaceful political solution to avert it, and the importance of holding those responsible for war crimes to account.

I want to press the Government specifically on how they intend to respond if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images, suggesting a use of chemical weapons, particularly ​because of how the Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW. If that scenario does arise, it may do so over the next month when the House is in recess.

We know from Bob Woodward’s book that what President Trump wants to do in the event of a further reported chemical attack is to commit to a strategy of regime change in Syria—and, indeed, that he had to be prevented from doing so after Douma. That would be a gravely serious step for the UK to take part in, with vast and very dangerous implications not just for the future of Syria, but for wider geopolitical stability.

In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will give us two assurances today. First, will he assure us that if there are any reports of chemical weapons attacks, particularly in areas of Idlib controlled by HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], the Government will not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used? Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the Government intend to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?

Alistair Burt : The co-ordinated action that was taken earlier this year with the United States and France was not about intervening in a civil war or regime change; it was a discrete action to degrade chemical weapons and deter their use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our position on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is unchanged. As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons, which have had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population. The right hon. Lady may recall that there are circumstances, depending on the nature of any attack, in which the United Kingdom Government need to move swiftly and to keep in mind, as their utmost priority, the safety of those personnel involved in a mission. I am not prepared to say at this stage what the United Kingdom’s detailed reaction might be or to give any timescale, because the importance of responding appropriately, quickly and with the safety of personnel in mind will be uppermost in the mind of the United Kingdom.’

In other words, we’re not asking Parliament, if we can help it. When I heard this on the BBC’s ‘Today in Parliament’ late last night I felt a shiver go down my spine. The White House National Security adviser, the bellicose John Bolton, yesterday presumed (which is not proven, see multiple postings here on the work of the OPCW investigations into these events) that the Assad state had used chemical weapons twice, as he said ‘if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger’. He said the USA had been in consultation with Britain and France and they had agreed this. The House of Commons goes into recess *tomorrow* 13th September, for the party conference season, and does not come back until Tuesday 9th October. Ms Thornberry is quite right to speculate that the conflict in Idlib, where Russia and the Assad state are in much the same position as the ‘West’ and the Iraqi state were in Mosul and Raqqa not long ago (i.e confronted with concentrations of a largely beaten Jihadi enemy, who might recover if not finally defeated), could explode during that period. […]

Emily Thornberry, far too rarely among MPs, is aware of the true position. In her question to Mr Burt, she said ‘The Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW’.

See:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/07/initial-thoughts-on-the-opcw-interim-investigation-into-the-alleged-gas-attack-in-douma-syria.html

If she and other wise and cautious MPs are to be able to pursue this, and to prevent British involvement in a very dangerous and perhaps limitless war, we as citizens are obliged to act now, swiftly, before Parliament goes away on holiday.

I ask you to write, swiftly and politely, to your MP, of any reputation or party, to say that you do not favour a rush to war, to say that the guilt of Syria has not been proved in the past (see:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/04/waiting-for-the-opcw-how-to-read-the-next-report-on-alleged-chemical-weapons-atrocities.html

and that a rush to judgement on such issues is almost invariably unwise. See for example the lies told to Parliament about Suez, the use of the Gulf of Tonkin to obtain political support for the USA’s Vietnam disaster, the non-existent ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which began the Iraq catastrophe and the claims of non-existent massacres and mass rapes used to rush this country into its ill-judged and cataclysmic attack on Libya. Ask only for careful consideration, for an insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission after a full and calm debate. 

it is all we can do.

There are many straws in the wind which suggest that we are being prepared for war. War is hell. At the very least, a decision which could have such far-reaching consequences, which could reach into every life and home, and embroil us for years, should be considered properly. The very fact that our government appears not to want us to consider it properly makes it all the more urgent that we insist on it.

Click here to read Hitchen’s article in full at the Mail Online.

Please note that all bold and coloured font highlights are retained from the original. I have also corrected typos.

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Additional:

The following upload by “The Last American Vagabond” from Saturday 8th provides indepth analysis and a broad overview of the latest developments in the Middle East and Idlib in particular (links to all articles are provided beneath the video on youtube):

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Update:

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria:

You will be seeing lurid accounts in the Western media of the latest  report to the UN Human Rights Council from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This was issued on 12 September.

In particular it is being stated that the report vindicates claims that weaponised chlorine was used in Douma. This is not what the report (text below) actually says.

If you read the actual report – you have to reach section 92 so obviously few hacks will do that – you will see that it is carefully worded.

The inspectors, who unlike OPCW did not actually visit the site, ‘received a vast body of evidence suggesting that..’ (of course they did, from the jihadis and from hostile intelligence services); ‘they received information on [deaths and injuries] (which is not the same as seeing bodies or examining victims); they ‘recall that weaponisation of chlorine is prohibited’ (but do not actually say that Syrian forces used it in Douma). 

Besides the text of the relevant part of the report I have added the paragraph on Raqqa and the ‘indiscriminate attacks and serious violations of international law’ by the coalition of which the UK is part, including the bombing of a school and killing of 40 people.

You will note also the acknowlegement that ISIS exploited hospitals in Raqqa (as other jihadi groups have done in every part of Syria). Naturally the media and our government will not want to discuss that paragraph of the report.

Click here to read the same statement – including relevant excerpts from the text of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria report – posted on Eva Bartlett’s In Gaza website

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Further update:

The following is my own letter emailed to Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central (Thursday 13th). Please feel free use it as a template.

Dear Paul,

The government looks set to get involved in a dangerous escalation in the war in Syria, possibly using the forthcoming parliamentary recess as an excuse for going to war without a vote in the Commons. So I am writing in regards to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by Emily Thornberry on Monday 10th, in which she asked how the government intends to respond “if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images”, and she called on the government, “not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used?”

Thornberry continued: “Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative.”

She also asked “if the Government intend[s] to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?”

The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

I ask if you will stand in full support of Emily Thornberry’s call for careful consideration and her insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission following a full and calm debate.

Kind regards,

James Boswell

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censorship in the name of copyright: stop the EU turning the internet into a ‘tool for surveillance and control’

The internet as a public forum is coming under attack once more. In the name of protecting intellectual property rights, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee today voted for legislation first proposed by the European Commission in 2016 which requires the installation of filters that will highly restrict the inclusion of news snippets in internet content, thus overhauling the existing copyright principle of ‘fair use’.

An open letter signed by seventy tech experts including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, was sent to the President of the European Parliament in June. It begins:

As a group of the Internet’s original architects and pioneers and their successors, we write to you as a matter of urgency about an imminent threat to the future of this global network.

The European Commission’s proposal for Article 13 of the proposed Directive for Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive was well-intended. As creators ourselves, we share the concern that there should be a fair distribution of revenues from the online use of copyright works, that benefits creators, publishers, and platforms alike.

But Article 13 is not the right way to achieve this. By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.

It concludes:

We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.

Another provision in the proposed legislation is a so-called “link tax” that will force all of us who use news snippets (as I am about to) to obtain a licence:

The aim is to generate income for publishers from aggregators such as Google and Reddit. Since readers usually want to know what a link leads to before clicking, most websites include a snippet of the linked-to content. Any limitation on snippets is hence also a limitation on linking.

The proposal would potentially restrict not just big players but smaller sites and individuals who publish news snippets. Germany and Spain have introduced similar laws, which have failed badly and been disastrous for publishers, the very group the EU seeks to protect. 1

Click here to read the full Guardian report by Kenan Malik.

Here’s another link to a different part of the story (and separate article) that the EU also wants to prevent me from quoting:

[Green MEP Julia] Reda argues that the “link tax” would drastically curtail internet users from sharing news stories and even holiday photos on the internet. Under the proposals, “such snippets would require licensing, including even short and purely factual headlines like ‘Angela Merkel meets Theresa May’”, she wrote ahead of the vote. 2

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Click here to add your name to a petition against the introduction of Articles 11 and 13 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive:

The proposed law includes powers for media giants to charge licensing fees for posting links, through a new type of copyright, aka the link tax. 3 It would also demand websites install bots to monitor your posts, and censor them, if copyrighted content is detected. 4 We know these rules impact how many of us work on a day to day basis: from journalists looking up sources, to professional reviewers discussing the latest films. 5

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1 From an article entitled “A fairer deal on web copyright doesn’t need the bovver boots from Brussels” written by Kenan Malik, published in the Guardian on April 8, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/08/fairer-deal-on-web-copyright-eu-free-speech-open-access

2 From an article entitled “EU votes for copyright law that would make internet a ‘tool of control’” written by Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/20/eu-votes-for-copyright-law-that-would-make-internet-a-tool-for-control

3 Ancillary Copyright, Publishers’ Right, Link Tax: a bad idea under any name. Source: Communia Association

4 Killing parody, killing memes, killing the internet? Source: EDRi

5 Help our link tax impact research AND speak to your MEPs. Source: OpenMedia

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Media on Trial event banned

OffGuardian

Media on Trial has released the following statement:

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, Leeds City Museum, a city council owned and operated venue, cancelled the Media on Trial’s booking for the event we had planned for 27 May.

The fact that the event was cancelled is perhaps bad enough. What became clear as the day has progressed, though, is that Leeds City Museum appear to have informed the press and media of the cancellation before they informed Media on Trial organisers. Indeed they waited for the Media on Trial representative to arrive at the venue for a planned meeting following a four hour train journey before giving us the news.

They seem to have taken this decision on the basis of misinformed assumptions about the content of the event, and offered no right of reply to Media on Trial.

Leeds City Museum has cancelled an event that threatened mainstream…

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join protests to stop the killing in Gaza – Saturday April 7th

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (literally “catastrophe”) when nearly a million Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes during the ethnic cleansing of 1948. Palestinians still have the keys to the buildings their families fled from all those years ago, kept as symbols of hope, of yearning and of resistance. The return march is part of 45 days of action leading up to this anniversary.

Last Friday [March 30th] was the 42nd anniversary of Land Day. On that day in 1976, Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian protestors killing six people. This year live bullets have once again been fired on unarmed protesters by Israeli snipers at the Gaza border. To date 17 people are dead and more than 1500 people injured. The protest is the first of a series of events that will continue until Nakba day on May 15th.

By selling arms and in other ways supporting the right-wing Netanyahu government, Britain is complicit in the Israeli state’s war crimes against Palestinians. As part of an extended Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) actions have been taking place around the world since February – an international series of events to raise awareness of Israel’s apartheid system over the Palestinian people and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

This Saturday Stop the War Coalition is helping to organise protests across Britain. #GreatMarchOfReturn

In London:

When: Saturday 7 April, from 1pm – 3pm.
Where: opposite Downing Street, SW1A 2AA.
Nearest Station: Westminster.

The details above can also be found on the Protest for Gaza: Stop the Killing facebook page.

In Sheffield:

When: Saturday 7 April from noon
Where: outside Town Hall

An earlier protest is also taking place to target HSBC, calling on them to stop supporting the arms trade with Israel. This will begin after a meet up in the Winter Gardens at 11.00 am for a short briefing about the action. Those who cannot make the meeting at 11:00 am are encouraged to join the protest at 11:30 am outside HSBC.

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Update:

Voices of some of the thousands who took to the streets of London:

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genocide in Yemen is great business — all hail Prince Mohammed bin Salman!

People in war-torn Yemen are facing a situation that “looks like the Apocalypse”, the UN’s humanitarian chief has told Al Jazeera, warning that the country could become the worst humanitarian disaster in half a century. […]

“The situation in Yemen – today, right now, to the population of the country – looks like the apocalypse,” Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said on Friday.

“The cholera outbreak is probably the worst the world has ever seen with a million suspected cases up to the end of 2017.”

Lowcock said “a terrible new epidemic” of diphtheria, a bacterial disease which should be completely preventable by immunisation, has already “affected up to 500 people with dozens and dozens of deaths” in the past few weeks

“That is going to spread like wildfire,” he added.

“Unless the situation changes, we’re going to have the world’s worst humanitarian disaster for 50 years”.

From a report entitled “Yemen could be ‘worst’ humanitarian crisis in 50 years” published by Al Jazeera.

The same report continues:

Lowcock’s comments came as the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated $50m to bolster the relief effort in Yemen, where more than eight million people are on the brink of famine. 1

This manufactured starvation is due to a blockade of the country’s air and sea ports that amounts to genocide. However, here is a genocide carried out by a ‘Saudi-led coalition’ that is very much armed and enabled by close allies Britain and America. In fact without British and US intelligence and other assistance including the refuelling of aircraft, this genocide could be ended tomorrow:

The U.S. has supplied Saudi Arabia with more than $20 billion worth of weapons during its Yemen campaign, including thousands of MK-82 bombs. In November, the State Department approved the sale of 8,020 new MK-82 bombs as part of a $1.29 billion transfer of more air-to-ground weapons.

Throughout his presidency, President Obama has sold more than $115 billion worth of weapons to the Saudis – more than any other President.

Reports Alex Emmons in a carefully documented piece published last October by The Intercept.

The same piece concludes with a quote from CIA officer and senior fellow at the Atlanticist ‘think tank’ Brookings Institute, Bruce Riedel, who in April described the U.S as “a partner in this war” and said:

“If the United States and the United Kingdom, tonight, told King Salman [of Saudi Arabia] ‘this war has to end,’ it would end tomorrow. The Royal Saudi Air Force cannot operate without American and British support.” 2

Click here to read the full report.

Which is why the deliberate starvation of eight million people gets scarcely a mention by the corporate media.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ruler-in-waiting, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “who Riedel called the ‘architect’ of the war in Yemen” 3 is set to visit Britain this coming Wednesday. Following a formal reception with Prime Minister May, he will afterwards be wined and dined at Windsor Castle by the Queen. A week on, the Crown Prince arrives in the United States to begin a state visit running from March 19th to the first week of April.

But no amount of red carpet will be able to soak up all the blood, just as nothing at all can disguise the stench of western hypocrisy.

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Additional:

On RT’s Going Underground, Afshin Rattansi today spoke to Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) on how billions of pounds worth of UK weapons sales to Saudi Arabia threatens the lives of the millions already suffering in Yemen:

Click here to petition the UK government to cancel the invitation for the visit of Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

And here to read more about the #SaudiPrinceNotWelcome campaign.

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1 From an article entitled “Yemen could be ‘worst’ humanitarian crisis in 50 years” published by Al Jazeera on January 5, 2018. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/yemen-worst-humanitarian-crisis-50-years-180105190332474.html

2 From an article entitled “Photos Show Fragments of U.S. Bombs at Site of Yemen Funeral Massacre” written by Alex Emmons, published in The Intercept on October 10, 2016. https://theintercept.com/2016/10/10/photos-show-fragments-of-u-s-bombs-at-site-of-yemen-funeral-masssacre/  

3 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2016/04/22/watch-sen-chris-murphy-on-revisiting-u-s-saudi-relationship/

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House of Saud: the West’s favourite despots

On Tuesday [January 23rd] BBC broadcast the final episode of its 3-part series “House of Saud: A Family at War”, which, according to the blurb, “looks at the challenges facing the new Crown Prince, 32-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, who has pledged to transform the country.” In fact the series is considerably more hard-hitting than that.

Episode one is slow burning and it takes about half an hour to get to the real point. Eventually, however, we are introduced to incontrovertible proof that the Saudis have been directly arming and funding both ISIS and countless “rebel” factions in Syria including Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), which is described by an anonymous member as “a Saudi organisation more than it is a Syrian one.”

None of this is revelatory, of course. News that the Gulf States have been covertly backing terrorist militia in Syria leaked out throughout the duration of the war. Neither is it the first time that disturbing footage of women in cages driven through the streets of Damascus as human shields (from 2015) has been reported in the mainstream.

The departure comes more in the way the evidence is presented. In this episode — as in the subsequent ones that explore corruption and human rights abuses respectively — the main narrative freely castigates the Saudi ‘government’ for its crimes and likewise condemns a select few of the West’s co-conspirators (Tony Blair is always an available villain) – disappointingly though unsurprisingly the more pejorative term ‘regime’ is held back. Where it fails most egregiously however is by perpetuating the claim that old-style Saudi despotism may be on the cusp of transformation. That arguably the most corrupt and backward regime on earth is somehow about to mend itself.

So I am recommending this series in all three parts but with firm reservations. As far as BBC’s reporting on Saudi Arabia goes this is a refreshingly frank and daring condemnation of the kingdom, and yet underlying the opprobrium is a repeated message to overlook and forgive Saudi’s diabolical human rights record and its pivotal role in the spread of Salafist terrorism because it remains a ‘vital ally’ and a ‘key partner in the fight against terror’. The BBC opens the way for this doublethink by allowing a platform to such apologists as former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, Ali Shihabi of the Arabia Foundation, Michael Stephens of RUSI and former CIA Director and RUSI award-winner General David Petraeus, who once recommended US support for al-Qaeda affiliates Jabhat al-Nusra.

My advice is watch all parts (each one is a damning investigation) mindful that all countervailing opinion is provided by sources closely aligned with the arms industry.

To watch episodes 1 (available for 14 days), 2 (21 days) and 3 (28 days) of BBC’s “House of Saud: A Family at War” on iplayer click here, here and here.

Click here to read an extended post detailing the origins of ISIS with timelines entirely collated from mainstream sources.

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Petition: Cancel the invitation to Saudi Crown Prince to visit UK

We call on the Prime Minister to withdraw the invitation for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to visit the UK. The Saudi Arabian regime has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Torture and arbitrary detention are widely documented. In 2017 alone, over 100 people were executed.

The Crown Prince has directed the bombardment of Yemen. Tens of thousands have been killed or injured. There is widespread famine and cholera, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Yet, the UK still sells arms to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi regime has supported repression in Bahrain, where its military intervened to end peaceful protests in 2011.

The lives of people in Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia are more important than arms sales. Stand up for human rights and cancel the visit.

Click here to add your name to petition the UK government.

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Chris Hedges and WSWS on organising resistance to internet censorship: watch tomorrow’s webcast

On January 16th (tomorrow), the World Socialist Web Site will video livestream a discussion on Internet censorship, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges and WSWS International Editorial Board Chairperson David North. WSWS reporter Andre Damon will moderate the discussion.

The webinar will explore the political context of the efforts to censor the Internet and abolish net neutrality, examine the pretexts used to justify the suppression of free speech (i.e., “fake news”), and discuss political strategies to defend democratic rights. Hedges and North will also field questions from on-line listeners. The webinar will be streamed live by the WSWS on YouTube and Facebook on Tuesday, January 16 at 7:00 pm EST (midnight in London, 1:00am in Berlin, 3:00am in Moscow and 11:00 am January 17 in Sydney. Full Time Zone Conversions).

The youtube livestream is embedded below:

Award-winning Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger threw his support behind the meeting, writing: “As a journalist and filmmaker who has long navigated the mainstream, I offer my support to this important discussion between Chris Hedges and David North.”

Pilger called the WSWS, Wikileaks, Counterpunch, and other left-wing news sources “crucial,” and said “the filtering and limiting of Google searches of these sites is rank censorship… The matter is urgent; voices must be raised! I urge my colleagues to break their silence.”

Attendees from six continents and dozens of countries have signed-up for this world event even as Google, Facebook, and other platforms continue to censor articles from the WSWS.

Keep our momentum going! Register for the event today.

Share this new video to social media and build awareness of the January 16 event!

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reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia

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A day of tyranny

On Sunday, all across Catalunya ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police and a dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon some of the 2,262,424 people who stood in long lines to cast their vote. The repression dealt by the Spanish State to prohibit the Catalan Referendum, in every bloodied baton and ever rubber bullet, transformed the day from a question of independence to a question of democracy. People were voting for the right to vote.

writes independent journalist Kevin Buckland, who provides eyewitness testimony of the Spanish government’s savage determination to thwart Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia.

He continues:

I am sitting on the floor of the polling station in central Barcelona, a long line has grown behind us. We have been here for hours already, but it doesn’t bother us. Just by being here we are useful. The rain has slowed to a drizzle and faces are emerging from beneath the umbrellas. It could be the line of people waiting to see a movie, young couples, the middle-aged with their adult daughters, families with children — these are not protestors, these are people.

There is a nervous tension, as we wait we are seeing realtime images of polling stations that look exactly the same as ours having their doors kicked in, people pulled away by their hair, elderly women thrown down stairs; twitter is a scroll of police clubs and rubber bullets. In some places the hundreds of people, with arms linked or hands in the air are enough to turn back the police, in others masked men walk out of schools holding half-filled ballot boxes.

Please take a second to imagine this: you go to your usual polling station and, as usual, you wait in a short line to vote. As you wait, masked men in dark armored suits smash their way in, pushing the elderly, clubbing your neighbor and firing rubber bullets into the crowd. They grab the ballot boxes and march out. They steal your vote; steal your voice. Twitter says there are 234 people injured.

This is the largest act of civil disobedience I have ever seen, and the bravery it required of the everyday people should not be diminished. Just by standing in that line we were all risking great harm. We wait our turn, patiently and calmly, but nervously. We pass the time by chatting to those next to us in line. The woman in front of us tells us of the first time she voted after fascism ended; of the student protests and the police brutality. In a country with such a recent history of dictatorship, voting means something different for the older generation.

The crowd cheers after an elderly woman walks past the long line after voting, she claps her hands in joy and the crowd joins her. Having spent most of her life under fascism, democracy must taste sweeter. I see the woman in front of me wipe away a tear. The crowd cheers next for a old man in a wheelchair and a young couple with their baby, the noise follows each of them from the polling station. We cheer for everyone, not for how they voted, but becausethey voted. This has become about more than independence, it is about the right to vote; the right of a population to ask itself a question and to answer it.

Click here to read Kevin Buckland’s full report of the day.

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Richard Sudan was another journalist who encountered the brutality first hand. The following extract is drawn from an article published by RT:

I witnessed for myself police trying to control the flood of people entering one polling station in Barcelona, only to fail due to the sheer numbers of those present. A number of videos showed police entering separate polling stations and seizing ballot boxes full of votes that had been cast. Were it not for the large amounts of people occupying the polling station where I spent the afternoon, I believe the same thing would have happened there too.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter: Spain, or any other country, cannot claim for itself the status of ‘a democracy,’ while repressing the fundamental democratic freedoms of its people, in this case, the Catalans. Personally, the situation brings to mind the plight of the Palestinians, who are routinely attacked by the Israeli state while Israel harps on about being a democracy. Hypocrisy of the highest order.

Now, we’ve all the seen the images of the Spanish police beating Catalans, shutting down polling booths, and seizing ballot boxes. What I didn’t see, however, and which is a stark paradox in my mind, were gatherings of neo-Nazi nationalists who were openly doing Nazi salutes in Catalonia Square being challenged with the same vigor, by the very same police who were attacking the polling booths. Why? How can this possibly make any sense?

How can the Spanish police justify their crackdown on voters while allowing neo-nationalists to make open Nazi salutes and parade in Barcelona unchallenged? Are the Spanish authorities really more afraid of the ballot box than neo-Nazis?

Entitled “Deafening silence: EU must condemn Spain’s Catalonia crackdown”, the same piece continues:

The only thing worse than this violence and hypocrisy is the deafening silence from other European and world leaders. The EU as a bloc has failed to take a formal stand against the brutalization of the Catalan people, who are, after all, citizens of the EU. Now, I’m not a fan of the neo-liberal economic program that underpins the EU, and I’m even less of a fan of the ‘leave’ campaign in Britain.

But it cannot be right, that the leadership of the EU is silent on this issue of Catalonia when it is so willing to criticize human rights abuses elsewhere.

Click here to read Richard Sudan’s full report.

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Media silence and complicity

In the days leading up to the referendum, corporate media outlets with few notable exceptions (RT, Al Jazeera and to some extent the Guardian), uncritically repeated the pro-Madrid mantra that the independence election was unconstitutional and thus illegal. Here was the patina of legitimacy for what would quickly follow. Repeating it meant promoting the Spanish government’s pretext for violent suppression. It justified the media’s collective decision to downplay an already impending paramilitary crackdown against a peaceful movement.

Of course the full shock of Catalonia’s bloody Sunday could hardly fail to make headline news across the mainstream. That said, the media is well-honed in methods for spinning half truths and so although widely reported, the true picture was obscured nonetheless: voters became “protesters” with Madrid’s armoured enforcers portrayed as “the security cordon”. Reprinted below is part of an excellent post put together by Craig Murray which summarises the propaganda techniques used across the British media:

This was a headline on the Guardian front page at 10.29am today. The people who wrote it are highly educated media professionals. The misleading impression a natural reading gives is absolutely deliberate.

Maintaining the Establishment line in face of reality has been a particular problem for picture editors. The Daily Telegraph has produced a whole series of photos whose captions test the “big lie” technique to its limits.

Note the caption specifically puts the agency for the “clash” on the people. “People clash with Spanish Guardia Civila…”. But the picture shows something very different, a voter being manhandled away from the polling station.

Actually what they are doing is preventing voters from entering a polling station, not preventing a riot from attacking a school, which is the natural reading of the caption.

In fact the firemen are trying to shield people walking to vote from the paramilitaries. The firemen were attacked by the Guardia Civilia shortly after that.

Sky News every half hour is repeating the mantra that the Catalan government claims a mandate for Independence “after a referendum marred by violence”, again without stating what caused the violence. In general however Sky’s coverage has been a great deal better than the BBC; Al Jazeera has been excellent.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article.

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What next?

When Spanish President Mariano Rajoy deployed thousands of police forces to Catalonia to repress an illegal referendum for independence, he probably thought it would bring some closure to an open issue. Perhaps, enforcing the law violently on peaceful citizens who just wanted to cast a vote, and doing it on the global stage would finally convince those rebellious Catalonians that their cause was lost.

Far from closure, the events of 1 October 2017 will cause more consternation in Catalonia than ever before. It is fair to question if Catalonians live in a 21st Century democracy, whether their most basic human rights are going to be respected and whether there is any room for political dialogue. Many of those who were not pro-independence before yesterday but supported a referendum, are probably wondering today whether there is any point in even considering staying in Spain, after all.

writes journalist Victor Lasa in another article published by Counterpunch.

Lasa continues:

Make no mistake, this is not a symptom of political idiocy, but a well-thought, effective strategy. Surveys are already showing the PP [Partido Popular, the ruling party in Madrid] would win the government again, by a landslide. The PP thrives in conflict, and Catalonians served them one on a silver platter. Why resolve a conflict when you can benefit from it instead?  This is classic Real Politik applied within its own borders. By simplifying and trivializing, they polarize the electorate, perhaps leaving almost no chance for those who show moderation and relative impartiality, like center-left PSOE and Podemos. On the other hand, this conflict is the perfect attention deviation device. One they desperately need to divert attention from hundreds of cases of rampant corruption, which include the political manipulation of the same national police they sent over to Catalonia.

Madrid’s iron-fisted suppression of Catalan nationalism plays well as a populist strategy in many quarters of Spain, however as Lasa points out, this latest display of force was so excessive that it has altered the political landscape more emphatically. He adds in conclusion:

The next time they have a chance, Spaniards and Catalonians will vote with their guts rather than their brains. Nevermind that PP will be reduced to political irrelevance both in Catalonia and the Basque Country. They will have the rest of Spain, drawing a map that paradoxically will make borders ever more obvious. One more question to answer now is how far the PP will go with this strategy. How much can the conflict be managed for political benefit before it explodes into an uncontrollable succession of violent events. It looks like we could find out soon, as the Generalitat [government of Catalonia] prepares itself to unilaterally declare Independence in the following days.

Click here to read Victor Lasa’s full article entitled “Catalonia and the Unsustainable Strategy of Conservative Spain”.

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Update:

On October 2nd, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, was interviewed on BBC2’s Newsnight by Mark Urban. Here is part of that interview [from 0:50 mins]:

MU: But do you think the police in every case – pushing women downstairs, firing rubber bullets into polling stations – do you think they have used proportionate and legitimate force?

AD: Yes I do.

However, when interviewed more recently (Sunday October 22nd) on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Dastis’ position had completely changed. Where previously he tacitly acknowledged the extreme police brutality and defended it as legitimate, he now claimed it was “fake news” [from 6:45mins]:

AD: No I don’t think there is any brutal situation – look, I think by now many of those pictures have proven to be fake pictures…

AM interjects: Really?

AD: And if there was any use of force it was a limited one and prompted by the fact that the law and order agencies were prevented from discharging the orders of the courts.

AM: You’re saying that those pictures that people saw of Spanish police intervening aggressively in polling stations are all fake pictures – they didn’t happen?

AD: I’m not saying that all are fake pictures but some of them are. And you know there has been a lot of alternative facts and fake news here. And as I said, if there was at all – and according to the pictures there was – some use of force it was not a deliberate use of force. It was a provoked use of force.

Unfortunately I cannot embed the interview because that option has been made unavailable but you can watch it by following this link: https://youtu.be/wuIAx_oQ-Ss

You can also watch the same interview on BBC iplayer by clicking here.

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Madrid’s crackdown means Catalonian referendum is now about much more than independence

Last June, a referendum was called on whether Catalonia, an autonomous region of the northeast of Spain, should declare itself to be a fully independent country. On September 6th the Catalan parliament approved this referendum and set the date for October 1st. It also introduced a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority. The Spanish government has ruled the referendum illegal.

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The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, writes in the Guardian that “a de facto state of emergency” has ended Catalan home rule just weeks ahead of a planned referendum on independence. Madrid appears deaf to the argument that its heavy-handed attempts to stop the vote will only ultimately strengthen support for secession. A judge sent in the police to arrest a dozen local officials; the Guardia Civil seized millions of ballot papers; the central finance ministry took over the region’s finances to prevent public money from being used in the vote. All the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has achieved by being so oblivious to public sentiment in Catalonia is to harden opinion in the region and draw thousands onto the streets.

The paragraph above is taken from the Guardian editorial published last Thursday [Sept 21st] entitled “The Guardian view on Catalonia: step back from the brink”.

As a friend in Barcelona confirms, not only is pro-referendum opinion being suppressed, but democracy has effectively been suspended:

About reports that a state of emergency has been put in place, they’re not totally wrong. Officially, such a thing hasn’t happened, because it would require approval by parliament, and Partido Popular [the governing party in Madrid] haven’t got enough of a majority to push this. But in practice civil liberties are being trampled on in various ways. Fourteen officials working for the Catalan government were detained yesterday, and interrogated for a whole day without the presence of their lawyers. The headquarters of an independentist party were surrounded for eight hours by the Guardia Civil (Spanish military police with an infamous Francoist past) without a court order.

The Catalan government’s finances have been forcibly put in the hands of the Spanish government. The banks have connived in this, blatantly against the law, since no there is no court order to close down the Catalan government’s accounts.

Although by law we have our own Catalan police, we have been invaded by the Guardia Civil and the Spanish Policía Nacional, who have arrived in large numbers; and more are stationed in boats in the port waiting to act. A few days ago over 700 town mayors were simultaneously indited for their support of the referendum, and now face criminal charges, like the arrested officials. Freedom of expression has been curtailed, since it is now a crime to publicly call for participation in the referendum, though Catalan public media keep ignoring the order.

The latest news is that school directors (most polling stations are schools) have been declared liable if they allow the vote by handing in the keys to the buildings, and police will be sent to each individually in the next few days to threaten them with criminal charges if they don’t comply. Also, school directors are supposed to inform against their superiors in the Catalan Department of Education, and again, they’re liable if they don’t.

Further restrictions are also in place to censor the internet:

All websites informing about how and where to vote have been seized by the Guardia Civil. Even printing voting cards has become illegal, and private printing presses have been raided, the material confiscated and the owners indited.

I find that one of the most depressing aspects of what’s going on here at the moment is censorship, which everybody looking for information on the referendum has experienced in the last few days. It feels weird to look up a website and find it has been replaced by the threatening logo of the Guardia Civil (complete with an axe and a sword) and a message in Spanish and English informing that the website has been “seized pursuant to a warrant by the Judicial Authority”. And just this morning I heard that charges are being brought against activists who set up mirror websites to circumvent the ban on referendum advertising.

Click here to read more about Spanish government’s denial of access to a free and open internet.

More positively, my friend says that resistance to the crackdown continues to be diverse and strong:

Public statements condemning the crackdown have been made by many civil society institutions (Barcelona football club among them), and Podemos and other associated left-wing parties (both here and in Madrid) have done likewise and are now backing the referendum as a protest act, although they are not independentist and would prefer an agreement with the Spanish government.

Also, a lot of ordinary citizens are defying the Spanish government’s ban on referendum advertising, by pasting home-made posters wherever they can. The Catalan trade unions are beginning to talk of a general strike. The Catalan government and the pro-referendum parties have called for peaceful resistance and so far there hasn’t been violence on the part of protesters, except for a couple of minor incidents last night that have been wildly exaggerated by the Spanish media. But the situation is tense since a lot of us feel outraged by the totalitarian measures imposed by the Spanish government.

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Now they’re calling us seditious. They accuse us, all of us, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people that have protested in support of Catalan institutions, of being agents of sedition. This is what the assistant state prosecutor, Miguel Ángel Carballo Cuervo, has said in a document destined to inhabit the precincts of judicial infamy. He, of course, will never understand it, but his accusation, is for me at least, an honor.

So writes Vicent Partal defiantly under the headline “Proud to be an Agent of Catalonian Sedition.” He continues – and his polemic is reproduced below in full:

Why? Because I believe it is an honor to be accused of sedition by an authoritarian state that violates its own laws to cancel democratic rights. It is honorable to be accused of sedition by those that arrest politicians, threaten media outlets, spy on personal correspondence, close down websites, invade government offices, enter into print shops without warrants, and threaten high school principals. In these circumstances and before these behaviors, I do not want to be among the defenders of their order: I prefer to be an agent of sedition.

To be accused of being an agent of sedition is a privilege when the accuser is someone obsessed with using the law to confront democracy, when he seeks refuge in an article of the constitution, number 155, brought in an envelope to the authors of the constitution by Franco’s military, when they say to us, whatever we decide to do, their documents will always carry more weight than our hands. It could very well be that we’ve waited too long to confront them. Be that as it may, the taboo of burying our differences can no longer hold up. It is the people that decide such things, not an old and decrepit law that we neither respect nor recognize as our own.

I’ll go even further. To be a seditious person today is, for them, to take an unforgivable position. Those that accuse us of sedition in this way or that  are really only trying to maintain the privileges of a corrupt regime that is, for the first time, being seriously challenged.  I’ll never be able to close ranks with people that say things like, “he who breaks it,  pays for it” as they cynically cover up the fact that their party is the most corrupt political party in Europe, while among their ranks are hundreds of people that have never been held to account  for  the things they’ve done, while they break the hard drives where the evidence of their crimes are hidden without the least fear of consequence,  while they violate the Constitutional separation of powers and use state institutions not only to serve the needs of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, but even worse, the proprietary needs and desires of the their party.

But let me say above all that being an agent of sedition today is, in my view, a moral necessity. I am an agent of sedition because I am taking a position, because I cannot believe in the idea of a middle ground that requires me to equate ballots with armed police, politicians elected by popular vote with attorneys general and martial-law courts, a peaceful people with the coercion of a state shorn of its legitimacy.  And still one more thing. I am an agent of sedition, and quite proud of it, because I learned when I was young something that I have believed in ever since: that when one is confronted by the possibilities of both liberty and tyranny there is never, ever, any need for deliberation.

Click here to read the same article (translated by Thomas Harrington) in Counterpunch.

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Before deciding to reprint the article above I forwarded it my friend in Barcelona who wrote back as follows:

I agree with the sentiments in the Counterpunch article, and the facts reported in it are true as far as I can tell. What I find missing is some criticism of the independentist side, especially of the Catalan government’s strategy, which has been rather questionable, and of their ulterior motives, which are not being discussed enough. But I guess having reached this wretched point, any democrat’s priority should be to denounce the Spanish state’s totalitarian measures, rather than point out the wrongs or the weaknesses of the more vulnerable side.

My position at the moment is that of Podemos and other associated left-wing parties: the referendum must be held because this has become a question of civil liberties and human rights. However, under the current circumstances, it will be impossible to hold it with all the proper guarantees, so it should be considered a protest act rather than a binding vote. In my case, if polling stations are open, I’ll try to go and put in my vote, even if it is a blank one, just to affirm the sovereignty of the Catalan people and my individual freedom of expression. But whether this will happen at all is looking less and less likely.

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Update:

On September 27th, the Guardian published an op-ed written by the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, entitled “Europe must act to protect the rights and freedoms of Catalans”.

She writes:

By proving itself incapable of finding a solution during all this time, the Spanish government has allowed the Catalan conflict to escalate from an internal dispute to a European conflict…  Europe cannot allow itself to adopt a passive position over the Catalan question, seeing that the events going on in Barcelona are affecting Paris, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin alike.

The European Union came about as a project to safeguard and guarantee our rights and freedoms. Defending the fundamental rights of Catalan citizens against a wave of repression from the Spanish state is also the same as defending the rights of Spanish and European citizens.

Those of us who are committed to advancing towards a democratic, social and freedom-loving European project find it hard to believe that the European Union’s institutions would not only back a situation that jeopardises fundamental rights and freedoms but also fail to commit themselves to finding the means for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

It is for this reason, given the seriousness of the situation in Catalonia, that it is my obligation as mayor of its capital, Barcelona, to call on the European commission to open a space for mediation between the Spanish and Catalan governments to find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict.

Click here to read the full article by Ada Colau.

Another article published the same day by the Guardian reports that an official letter of protest has been sent to the European Commission calling for action to stop internet censorship:

“What they’re doing by blocking domain name servers is doing what Turkey does and what China does and what North Korea does,” said the spokesman [for the Catalan government]. “No western democracy does that. The internet is the kingdom of freedom.”

The letter says the online crackdown is part of “the ongoing unlawful repression of the institutions of autonomy of Catalonia” and calls on the commission to act as “the ultimate guardian of the open and free internet, which is truly at stake now”.

Asked about the legality of the Spanish authorities’ actions, the commission referred the Guardian to remarks made by its chief spokesman on Tuesday.

“We don’t have anything to say other than to reiterate our respect for the legal order – the constitutional order – within which all these measures have been taken,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday.

Spain’s interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full article entitled “Catalan leaders compare Spain to North Korea after referendum sites blocked”.

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