Riding a tiger through stupid protest laws

Today there was a substantial impromptu demonstration in London by Sri Lankan Tamils, who first occupied Westminster Bridge before being forced by riot police into the centre of Parliament Square, where they still were in the mid-afternoon, and might still be now for all I know. I went along with my camera to witness this extraordinary event, and you can see the pictures here.

Parliament Square, for those who don’t know, is covered by the draconian protest restrictions that were brought in in 2005, in which a permit is required for any political demonstration within about a mile of Parliament, which covers the area where most of the major government departments are, such as Whitehall. (It covers much less of the south side, which is mostly residential.) I am not sure whether the whole thing was unpermitted, as one participant told me that the Parliament Square part was licensed for four days, while the occupation of the bridge was not; the police insisted that they had not been informed about it, but were being sensitive due to the presence of so many children. Rather than publicise it in advance, they just turned up; it seems it was arranged by text message.

While taking pictures, I had some Tamils ask me why I was taking pictures and whether I was press. I replied no, that I had a blog and intended to publish them there. He told me I should tell “the truth” about their struggle on my blog. I asked about the flags (tiger image on red background) and he told me that it was a traditional Tamil flag which had been used by “their kings”, which the LTTE were using (like the green Islamic flag, used by the Saudis and Hamas). He gave some story about tigers not coming from Heaven but being created on Earth among the people, who come forth in response to oppression. He also told me (as I already knew) that before the British came, the Sinhalese and Tamil areas of the island had been administered separately; the British united them for administrative convenience, and effectively left the island to the Sinhalese. I also heard a story about chemical weapons being used by the “Buddhist government”, which was getting weapons from India and the UK.

I have to say that press reports of a “siege” were the usual exaggerated nonsense. When I was there (from about 3:30pm to 4pm), it was loud but peaceful and I never felt threatened even once, even when I expressed views about such matters of Tamil Tiger racketeering (no, I didn’t mention their invention of the suicide belt — not to the Tamils anyway); although there were some angry scenes as was reported in the news (also here). I found the reference to “genocide” annoying, as it’s inaccurate. Genocide means a concerted effort to wipe out or drastically reduce a population by murder; it is not the same thing as oppression. The Nazi Holocaust and the atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda were genocides; the term is not appropriate for Sri Lanka, or Palestine for that matter.

However, I am glad someone has made a nonsense of the Blair protest laws. People have been arrested in that area for merely wearing a T-shirt with a slogan on it, or reading out lists of soldiers killed in Iraq; these people turn up out of nowhere and fill the square, and there’s only six arrests. The restrictions are without credibility and should be repealed, and soon.

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