13 February 2015

Police surveillance of Charlie Hebdo magazine purchasers

Police collected the names of those ordering the special edition of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, in all probability to include on a national database of people politically active in the UK.

On 7 January 2015 two marginalised and alienated French nationals - armed with guns and a Muslim-inspired fascist ideology - went on a rampage of murder in the editorial offices of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine. People in France and across the world were rightly outraged that journalists should be murdered for ridiculing religion. In defence of free speech and in solidarity people sought to purchase the special edition of the magazine which was published after the murders.

Nevertheless, in the Britain in 2015 people interested in controversial magazines from abroad - however understandable the motive - is not something which the police will ignore.

Four people ordered the magazine from a newsagent in Corsham in Wiltshire. Police visited the newsagent and demanded the names of the customers. When the police action came to light on 10 February, it was deemed a mistake and an isolated event. Names were to be deleted from police computers.

But the following day, it emerged that the same police enquires had been made in Presteigne in Wales and, by telephone, in Warrington in Cheshire. Two things became almost certain. First, that there were many investigations across the country into Charlie Hebdo readers, in addition to those we already know about. And secondly, the investigations were no isolated incidents, but a policy instructed from the top.

Police say that they were making “an assessment of community tensions.” Utter bilge! What community tensions involving militant Islam is there in rural Wales and in the countryside of Wiltshire. The idea that these police enquiries contribute to combating Islamic terrorism doesn't hold water, either: the Charlie Hebdo magazine is among the last things devout Muslims would purchase.

What this snooping is about, it would seem, is nothing more than the police and the security services building a database of all those who are in any way politically active in the UK. If they are prepared to go to such lengths, deploying police time in rural England and Wales to pick up a couple of names, then one can only imagine what effort is probably put into monitoring political activity on the internet.

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