Thursday, August 24, 2006

Comedian calls for 'mass lone demonstration'

Alexi Mostrous
Thursday August 24, 2006


Hundreds of demonstrators are expected to gather in Parliament Square next Thursday to take part in a unique protest. The subject: absolutely anything. Opponents of war, fur, fees, developing world debt - whatever - will come together for what has been called a "mass lone demonstration" by its organisers.

The stunt is designed to subvert the government's widely criticised ban on taking part in protests within a kilometre of parliament without prior police authorisation. Each participant is being encouraged to apply to the police for a "lone protest" licence (one demonstrator holding one placard), in the hope that the constabulary will be overrun by having to grant huge volumes of individual licences. The police cannot refuse an application made at least six days in advance.

The organiser, comedian and political campaigner Mark Thomas, said: "What we hope to achieve is to put a sense of fun and play into protest. We want the police and the politicians to know that these laws preventing us from peaceful protest are ridiculous. The government needs to know that it has passed bad law." But he warned that any protester without a licence could face a £5,000 fine and even prison. "The deadline for applying to the police is today."

The ban was drawn up last year in an unsuccessful attempt to evict Brian Haw from Parliament Square, where he had staged a protest for more than four years. Last year it resulted in the conviction of Maya Evans, 25, for reading out the names of 97 British soldiers who died in Iraq.

Critics have denounced the law, part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, for undermining free speech and have accused police of inconsistency in its application. "Surely these new security laws were not intended to protect parliamentarians from hearing peaceful protesters," said Doug Jewell, Liberty's campaign coordinator. "Freedom of expression is too precious to be marginalised in this way."

At Charing Cross police station, PC Gary Smith said he was aware of Mr Thomas's plans. "We can't refuse a demonstration but we can impose any conditions we think fit. But until the applications come in I can't comment."

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