Grey's Monument has a long history of being a place for political groups to hold demonstrations and rallies. However, local activists are complaining about increasing harassment by the police, which they say is undermining the democratic right to protest. In the most recent development in an ongoing campaign for democratic rights, 4 supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! were originally summoned to appear in court on 11th March 2008 charged with participating in an illegal street collection on 7th May 2007. This has now been postponed to 19th May 2008 to allow for an application by defendants for documents relating to communication between police and Newcastle City Council relating to the prosecution. The Council have now admitted that the police requested the prosecution and it was carried out by delegated council officers with no involvement from elected representatives.
The event on 7th May, which the charges refer to, was collecting petitions and informing the public about the imminent deportation of a Kurdish woman and her 3 children to Turkey, where she faced imprisonment and torture. After an extensive campaign the family's deportation was stopped. This is the kind of activity which the actions of the police and council threaten to shut down in future. The Kurdish woman in question showed her solidarity with the activists by attending the protest outside the court on the 13th November.
The police have recently started demanding that activists apply to the council for a permit in order to collect money. However, Newcastle City Council regulations state that collections at street meetings are exempt from the need for a licence. Even though this is the case, some protesters have been issued with formal warnings and others have been arrested and had money confiscated by the police. Now Newcastle City Council has joined in the attack with the issue of summonses to court.
One of the activists concerned, Daniel Matthews, commented: 'Trying to cut off funds necessary for effective campaign work is censorship by the back door, an attempt to drive political activity off the streets of Newcastle. What we are experiencing currently is only a small part of the picture. With ID cards, immigration prisons and so called 'anti-terror' laws, the Labour Government seems intent on silencing all opposition.'
* Section 2 of Regulations made by Newcastle upon Tyne City Council with Regard to Street Collections state: 'No collection, other than a collection taken at a meeting in the open air, shall be made in any street or public place within the City of Newcastle upon Tyne unless a promoter shall have obtained from the licencing authority a permit.'