In mid-February each year, Kurdish communities across the world come together to protest the continued incarceration of Abdullah Öcalan, held on the island military prison of İmralı, and guarded by 1000 soldiers there.
This week marks the 22nd anniversary of Öcalan’s abduction by Turkish and US intelligence agents. For the first ten years he was in solitary confinement, but in 2009 a handful of other Kurdish activists were sent to join him after the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture raised their serious concerns with the Turkish authorities in October 2008 and a new prison facility was built.
In isolation, he continued writing about his political theories including the feminist Jineology which lies at the core of the Kurdistan Communities Union, a confederate umbrella group representing the various stateless autonomous regional groupings of Kurdish people spread across Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.
Protesters at Manor House in north London yesterday were calling for the British government to put pressure on Turkey to release Öcalan and stop attacking Kurdish people.
They’d contacted police ahead of the protest, and at the start of the gathering they spoke to the senior officer offering to put in place all necessary safety measures to ensure a CoVid-safe environment. But police refused to negotiate, instead announcing a Section 35 dispersal order under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and threatening anyone attending with fines and/or arrest.
Still the protest, attracting a few dozen people, went ahead for a while with almost everyone wearing masks and clearly observing distancing, but officers moved in to detain one of the speakers, who was quickly shielded by a small crowd of supporters and led safely away. As people dispersed, more crowding occurred as police chased demonstrators down Green Lanes picking people at random to hand out fines.
Far from preventing transmission, this repressive policing quite possibly increased the likelihood of contagion. In one nonsensical case, having ascertained someone’s address nearby, officers directed him to go home via a circuitous route including an unnecessary bus ride, instead of allowing him to walk alone through the proscribed area.
The use of Section 35 is particularly controversial in this case because the Act states: In deciding whether to give such an authorisation an officer must have particular regard to the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly set out in articles 10 and 11 of the Convention.” “Convention” has the meaning given by section 21(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Under current coronavirus rules, the lack of any exemption for protest is a deeply troubling human rights concern, and yesterday’s police operation also made the ban completely counter-productive from a public health point of view.