In the land of Magna Carta

You may have heard that Grayzone journalist Kit Klarenberg was detained by security police at Luton aiport last week on his return from a period in Serbia. The Grayzone is a somewhat left-wing outfit, but does good, independent journalism on the secret wrongdoings of Western governments. As the cases of Julian Assange or Edward Snowden show, our governments don’t like their wrongdoings being reported.

Anyway here is an interview with Klarenberg, with the interviewer being, perhaps, somewhat hyperbolic about the horrors he actually suffered. What the interview does show that’s particularly worth noting is what our current anti-terrorism laws mean for our basic human rights, particularly when implemented by intelligence services that seem, by all accounts, to dwell in a vicious spiral of paranoia. The latter observation reminds me of the spymasters of Tudor times, who were quite able to get anyone they took a dislike to hanged, drawn and quartered by finding supposed secret messages in innocent letters, given enough imagination and a few sessions on the rack.

Klarenberg explains that for the first time in Britain, he as a journalist has been detained on the basis not simply of suspicion of planning terrorism, but of doing so on behalf of a foreign enemy government, in this case (of course!) Russia.

Now, our government hasn’t bothered with the nicety of declaring war on Russia, so that we have to guess that it is a hostile power by the mood-music of the press and the giving away of our armed forces to Ukraine, as far as I can see with precious little in the way of parliamentary scrutiny. But in any case, it appears that the current (fairly new) legislation doesn’t even require the accused to have actually communicated with any branch of the hostile government, let alone be paid or commissioned by them, to be guilty. So presumably, for a citizen to say they sympathise with Russia’s foreign policy is tantamount to treasonous conspiracy with Putin.

But then, too, Klarenberg was told, as he was interviewed for five hours while his electronic devices were (in his words) “strip searched,” that he was not suspected of anything specific and was not under arrest. That sounds good until they added that because he was not under arrest, his constitutional right to silence did not apply – if he did not answer all their questions, he would be arrested.

On the face of it it would seem sensible to keep silent on principle, get arrested, and then make sure one was cautioned that one need not say anything. But I imagine that it doesn’t work that way in cases of terrorism (which, remember, in this case simply means telling the public about the government’s dirty linen, including terrorism abroad). So you can bet that silence would be interpreted as guilt, and that anything you say, under duress, whilst not under arrest and “protected” by caution will most certainly be “taken and down and used against you.”

I must add that under this legislation the police have the power to confiscate all electronic devices not only for a period of search, but permanently (apparently we’re the only, or at least the first, country in the world to make such a law). So if it is required to use the process to punish you, even if there is no basis for arrest, all the essential business information, personal correspondence, or family photographs you carry on your phone or computer can be kept from you permanently. Needless to say, a journalist’s privileged sources can also be hacked if they are kept digitally.

I don’t know if Klarenberg is an NUJ member or not, but initially the union put out a “What’s going on here?” piece on their website – but then rapidly removed it when various government apparatchiks accused them of being Putin stooges. No protection there, then, no doubt because it would be easy for the NUJ leaders themselves to be charged with of aiding and abetting foreign government terrorism. In any case, I understand that in a recent court ruling, a judge set a new precedent that, since an independent journalist was not a member of the union, he forfeited the legal protections accorded to journalists – just think for a moment about what that means for the concept of law as the protector of the weak against the powerful.

So our “Western democratic values” apparently now mean that you can be accused of being a terrorist of a foreign power though you’ve never contacted a foreign power; without the right to silence; with the potential loss of any electronic records that might exonerate you; and without actually terrorising anybody. For you will be aware that “disinformation” is now being defined as terrorism, and that in the US “land of the free” parents are regarded as domestic terrorists for protesting against corrupting books at school board meetings.

If Kit Klarenberg is considered to be a mere “independent blogger” rather than a protected journalist, and liable to terrorist investigations for telling the truth about government evils, then potentially any one of us could find a bunch of policemen on our doorstep if we make critical comments about exploding pipelines on The Daily Sceptic, and still more for hosting a small-to-medium sized blog not toeing the official propaganda line. This blog has already been surveilled by one or more governments. The history of the Gestapo and the KGB show that, once the paranoia takes hold of a powerful, unaccountable organisation, nobody is safe from suspicion.

If Britain ever gets round to declaring war on Russia (or even if it just announces that we have boots on the ground and ignores legality), then on the basis that “We have always been at war with Eurasia” there would apparently be every legal basis for trawling through my past publications for wrongthink, and interning me in some Gulag camp under Section 58 without regard to my advanced age, my past role as a GP and law-abiding pillar of society since riding my bicycle without lights in 1972, or the fact that I have harmed nobody by exercising my right to freedom of speech.

This situation, dear reader, is what Britain would be fighting all the savage dictators of the world to preserve, if it were only honest enough to declare war on them rather than live by lies.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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