There were moments yesterday when I began to question whether I really did live in a modern 21st Century liberal democracy.
Two different stories in the news yesterday shocked me and made me angry.
I’m talking about the story of the nine-hour detention-without charge of David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, and the story of the arrest of the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas at an anti-fracking protest.
Two very different situations but, I argue, in one way linked.
I believe they show how overbearing the State can be-even in a supposed liberal democracy when it gets it wrong.
As most people know I’m on the centre-left and proud to be so. I believe in the State as a force for good. And a phrase I often use in describing my political outlook is that I believe in an enabling State. So, for example, I believe the State does have a role in creating jobs and in helping people lead healthier lives. However, I am also a Liberal and it disgusts me to my core when the State is used as a tool to batter people’s civil liberties and people’s fundamental rights.
Who could reasonably argue, certainly going on what we know at the moment, that the nine-hour detention of David Miranda was anything other than a direct attempt by agents of the State to try and use ‘anti-terror’ legislation to intimidate Mr Miranda’s partner, Glenn Greenwald who had caused the US Government a great deal of embarrassment with his sensational stories following the revelations revealed by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
State actors detained Mr Miranda, at Heathrow Airport, for the maximum nine hours they are able to within the law. Was he charged with any kind of crime after this extremely lengthy detention? No, he was not. However, the agents of the State did take all his electronic gadgets from him; his phone, laptop, etc.
According to the rules they must be returned to their owner within seven days but, again, who can realistically argue that this was anything other than an attempt to try and gain information about how Greenwald was getting his stories/what his new revelations might be?
Some have criticised Greenwald for his reaction to all of this when speaking to the media in Brazil, where he lives with his partner.
Of course it was a very emotional moment for him, but I believe Greenwald will-and indeed should-continue to publish his revelatory stories as long as they don’t jeopardise national security or put any individuals at physical harm.
The State-and its media apologists-appears to love nothing more than prying into the private lives of others and seems to want to hide behind a cloak of secrecy.
The likes of Greenwald and Snowden shine much needed light in the darkest of dark corners where the worst and most secret elements of our State appears to operate.
They speak truth to power. If only more of our journalists were doing that. If only we had more people prepared to whistle blow about where corruption exists and when the State oversteps the mark.
In terms of the Caroline Lucas story, going on the TV reports-which is all I have to go on, it appeared the anti-fracking protest in Balcombe, West Sussex, was entirely peaceful until the Police stepped in and, from the pictures, began heavy-handily physically removing people from the middle of a road.
Now, sure, their protest might well have caused disruption. And disruption is a pain and, yes, probably annoyed a good number of people.
But, I ask, is that really enough to break-up a peaceful protest and start arresting people?
I’d argue not.
Peaceful protests are a key fundamental right of a functioning democracy.
Yes, we need a rule of law, but when those laws are used-or allegedly used-to try and prevent whistleblowing/freedom of the press or to break up a peaceful protest, then the State has way overstepped the mark.
Such action is not taken in my name.
I’m a Social Democrat but I’m also a Liberal. And I hope my Party will always speak out when the State goes too far.
I fear for our future and call on all people of good conscience to always speak out and up in support of those who are prepared to face significant personal and physical risk to make sure our rights are protected and that we know about wrongdoing by the State.
Sometimes the State gets it very, very wrong.
- Mathew Hulbert is a Liberal Democrat Borough and Parish Councillor in Leicestershire.
- He’s on the Executive and Council of the Social Liberal Forum and the Advisory Board of Liberal Left.
- He writes here in an independent capacity.
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