Police disrupted and moved a peaceful protest outside the London Greek embassy yesterday afternoon, leading to two arrests. The protest was over the murder of Pavlos Fyssas by a neo-Nazi Golden Dawn activist in Keratsini last week.
Just before 1pm yesterday as I arrived at Holland Park, I saw barriers set up on the pavement, and around 40 people, including the inevitable newspaper sellers with their trestle table, waiting there.
I was slightly confused, as the ‘protest pen’ was outside a large white building that appeared to be private flats. Across the road was a walled entrance to the park, and further along was the Greek Embassy itself, a far from salubrious building that looks like down-market (for the area) flats.
Another man started to use string to tie one end of his banner to a metal lamp-post.
Seemingly unaware of their duty under the European Convention on Human Rights, several of the half a dozen police began to tell people they couldn’t protest there, couldn’t tie anything to a lamp-post and so on. Even after some discussion, and dark mutterings about obstruction and criminal damage, neither of which were occurring, they went off and started bothering other demonstrators who were now arriving and taking up position outside the object of their protests, the embassy.
WPC Pymont (whose lapel ID ‘BS 206’ was not related to the BS she was spouting), was telling people that if you hold a protest, you need to notify and get authority from the police. These cops knowledge of the ECHRA was depressingly woeful, and it’s something the Met should really sort out, as it’s a very basic and fundamental part of policing by consent in a democratic society.
A couple of diplomatic protection police turned up and thankfully made more sense, pointing out the need to protect the Embassy itself under the terms of the Vienna Convention, but otherwise seemingly relaxed about the protest outside.
The protest was called by Syriza activists in the UK (Syriza is the main Greek opposition party, a coalition of left, radical, and green groups trying to work together in a united front). It was also promoted and attended by UK socialists and anti-fascists. [edit – 27th sept – It’s been pointed out to me that by far the majority of those attending were as a result of an FB event called by some of those involved in a people’s assembly outside the embassy that took place in 2011 in solidarity with the Syntagna Square assemblies in Greece. They estimate only around 30 activists were via Syriza, and that the protest was really a call from below with no organisers – I’m happy to correct this] They were protesting about the killing of anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas. He was murdered by a member of the neo-Nazi right-wing Golden Dawn party which has taken advantage of austerity cuts to promote its intolerant and hatred-fuelled agenda and gain popularity in Greece. Greek protests over the murder were met with violence and repression by the State police.
A small group of around twenty folk, also outside the pen, stood with their banner and chanted on the pavement directly opposite the embassy and separate from the main crowd. These were the KKE, the Greek Communists who are not part of the Syriza coalition.
By now, the crowd was spilling out into the road a little, and a couple of constables were trying to direct people back on to the pavement.
This is when policing became problematic. To facilitate the protest and mitigate inconvenience to the public, what they could have done would be remove the barriers and allow pedestrians free access along the pavement opposite and away from the embassy, and post an officer at each end to calm traffic which could have easily and safely negotiated the partly obstructed road at a slow pace.
But no, they just had to throw their weight around. An Inspector turned up, claimed there was ‘serious disruption to the life of the community’ and imposed Section 14 conditions. He informed the man from Syriza that he’d have to move the protest over to the pen (clearly too small for the numbers there), and that he’d be sending in the TSG to use force if necessary.
The organiser used his megaphone to try to achieve the required movement, but the TSG also moved in and threatened people into moving. Many moved off the pavement and part-way across the road, but there was clearly not enough room for everyone on the opposite pavement.
Then around 2.15, the pushing began, and there was an inevitable skirmish, a young girl was arrested, a man became involved and he was violently seized too. They were then both bundled into a police van and taken away.
So now, one pavement was still blocked, just a different one! And the noisy crowd was directly outside people’s private flats rather than outside the park gate and the embassy. And the road, which was previously open to traffic, was blocked at one end by police vans, while traffic coming up the other way were turned back by a constable.
All in, the police had managed to provoke two completely unnecessary arrests, and cause much greater disruption to the community than there was before, and impinge on everyone’s right to protest.
Despite all this, the crowd remained defiant, peaceful, and good-natured, and the sound system carried on pumping out tunes as numbers began to lessen over the next hour, until about 3.15 when there seemed a natural consensus to leave.