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Issue #1606      August 14, 2013

Free Stephen Murney, victim of British political repression

“Those unfortunate to find themselves interned by remand, despite not being found guilty of anything, can be imprisoned for lengthy periods with no sign of either a date for trial or release. Political internees can find themselves in jail for up to two years, or more, under this repressive, draconian policy, awaiting a trial ... ”

Stephen Murney 01/06/2013.

Stephen Murney is a political and community activist, who lives in Newry in the north of Ireland. He is also a member of Eirigi (Arise) which is a legal, registered Irish socialist republican political party. Stephen has frequently documented, photographed and recorded incidents of harsh PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) stop and searches of people, house raids and other rough treatment in the Newry area. Stephen regularly highlighted these issues in local newspapers and on the internet.

In late November 2012, Stephen Murney wrote a letter to a local newspaper expressing his strong condemnation of several early morning raids by the PSNI on homes in the Derrybeg Estate, Newry. He stated that these incursions were causing deep distress to the targeted families and maintained the raids were excessive, unnecessary and avoidable. On November 28, some 24 hours after Stephen’s letter was published, in scenes similar to those he had described and criticised, police smashed in his front door and stormed into his home in a dawn raid. Police officers searched his house, seized a computer, political literature and a flute band uniform and arrested Stephen.

The PSNI then three days later charged Stephen Murney with three “offences”. The first charge is, collecting information which may be of use to terrorists. The second charge is, distributing information which may be of use to terrorists. The third charge is, possessing items which could be used for terrorist purposes.

The first charge concerns Stephen openly taking photographs of people, including PSNI officers at a protest rally in Newry in June 2012. The PSNI didn’t question, or arrest Stephen, or confiscate or examine his camera/phone or ask for certain images to be deleted at that time. The police did ask him to stop taking photographs and he promptly agreed and did so. The second charge relates to Stephen later posting the same photographs on Facebook, as well as having other political images on this computer. The third charge is in regards to the items of clothing (flute band uniform), two airguns and political literature seized from his home.

At a hearing on December 21, Stephen’s lawyer said the photographs had been openly taken, that Stephen had stopped when instructed and that the posting of some photographs was also for a perfectly legitimate purpose. Some of these photos were taken by Stephen at political protests, commemorations and other events. But most of the photos were downloaded from the internet, many were old, dating back to the Civil Rights Movement in north of Ireland in the late 1960s.

The lawyer added that the items that could allegedly be used for “terrorist” purposes consisted of flute band uniforms, possessing two ball-bearing airguns (belonging to his son and are legal and widely available throughout Ireland), legal political leaflets and images freely available to the public on the internet. Many supportive references from community organisations in Newry in support of Stephen Murney were also presented to the court.

It is common practice for political activists around the world to take photographs of demonstrations and of police at political protests. In fact, legal and human rights groups regularly advise political activists to record such protests and any instances of police harassment or mistreatment that occur. Like many hundreds of thousands of other people Stephen loads this information on his computer and sometimes posts some of it on social media sites.

After querying the vague nature of the charges the judge granted Stephen bail. But at the request of the PSNI, the judge imposed several draconian bail conditions, including: banning Stephen from living at home with his wife and family, banning him from entering Newry, his home town, where almost all his family and friends live and banning him from attending any political events or meetings. The judge additionally, ordered that Stephen, reside at least five miles from Newry, report daily to the PSNI barracks (a further 12 miles away), accept a daily curfew from 7pm to 10am and wear an electric tagging device at all times.

Stephen rejected the humiliating bail conditions the court imposed, declaring his total innocence of the charges. Several efforts by Stephen’s lawyers to change the harsh bail conditions were refused and he remains in imprisoned in Maghaberry Jail.

The Orwellian state of affairs in the North of Ireland

“There has been an accelerated erosion of legal rights since 1998.” Pat McNamee, member of the Stormont Assembly and former local councillor.

At a recent protest, a member of the Stormont Assembly and friend of Stephen Murney, Pat McNamee, stated that only through entering the world of “newspeak” could we obtain the answer as to why Stephen Murney is imprisoned. He said, “Newspeak is the term used by Orwell, in his book 1984, to describe the language employed to oppress people in what was a fictional totalitarian state. That state is not really so fictional nowadays.”

Pat continued, “Stephen Murney is charged with having a band uniform that he wore whilst a member of a local republican flute band. In ‘newspeak’, that is having a paramilitary uniform and being equipped for terrorism.

“Stephen Murney is charged with having photographs of protests he had taken part in, which inevitably included images of members of the PSNI, who were also present at these demonstrations. In ‘newspeak’, that is having information useful to terrorists.

“Stephen Murney is charged with having his son’s toy guns in his home. In ‘newspeak’, that is having an imitation firearm.

“In ‘real speak’, Stephen has been held in prison for over six months solely because he is an effective republican and community activist.”

Congratulating all of those present at the rally, Eirígí activist Shane Jones said that it was representative of a growing awareness of the plight of Stephen Murney across the country and of the excesses of the British state.

“However, if those within the British establishment, its puppet parliament at Stormont, its compliant judiciary or its corrupt police force thought that they could isolate Stephen Murney and smother his criticism of their collective actions, they have misjudged the situation. People once unaware of the true nature of the continued British presence in Ireland are being exposed to it across the country. Over the past couple of weeks alone pickets, protests, leaflet drops and information stalls have been held in Newry, Offaly, Wexford, Wicklow, Belfast, Galway and Dublin, with many more to come,” Shane Jones said.

Concluding the rally, Davy Hyland, independent councillor in Newry and Mourne District Council, vowed that ... he and those assembled would continue to raise the case of Stephen Murney until he is released and allowed to return to his family, home and community.

Despite the Good Friday Agreement, injustice continues

“Despite all the supposed ‘changes’, many of the old repressive injustices remain, including internment, political policing, Diplock courts and ongoing M15/ British army military activity.” Stephen Murney.

Highlighting that Stephen Murney is but one victim of an increasingly oppressive British state apparatus, Pat McNamee said that after two decades of “peace processing”, the rights of the individual, rather than being protected through a Bill of Rights, which was but one of a number of promises enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, had been reneged upon without sanction.

“Through extended periods of detention, increased stop and search powers, the reduction of the right to a trial by jury and ‘closed evidence hearings’, where judges are presented with secret ‘evidence’ which can neither be disclosed to nor challenged by the accused or their legal representatives, the British state apparatus is more draconian now than at any time during the years from 1969 through 1999. Instead of moving forward with human rights, it is they who are dragging us back,” Pat McNamee stated.

Stephen Murney is a victim of British injustice in the North of Ireland, but he is one of many of those suffering from an increasingly oppressive British state system. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement offered better times, a period of peace and healing, yet people’s human rights and civil liberties are still constantly violated. And the basic rights that were meant to be upheld by the Good Friday Agreement process are being grossly abused.

Calls for the release of Stephen Murney grow

Since the arrest and imprisonment of Stephen Murney a number of Irish republican and various other organisations have campaigned for his freedom, including Eirigi, Republican Network for Unity, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Republican Sinn Fein, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, as well as local Councillors and other individuals. Independent Councillor Davy Hyland from the Newry and Mourne Council stated that, “Stephen has been held...on the most spurious charges ... he tried to get bail, but was given the most atrocious conditions that he couldn’t possibly meet”. He added, “Stephen’s treatment has been absolutely deplorable.” While Sinn Fein Councillor Brendan Curran said the bail restrictions imposed were “excessive and unacceptable” given the “dubious” charges.

And human rights groups are starting to take up his case. On 14, June, Justice Watch Ireland wrote to the British Secretary of State Theresa Villars and Justice Minister, David Ford, calling for the immediate release of Stephen Murney. JWI also issued a press release on the facts of the case and their conclusions. JWI’s press release said, “Justice Watch Ireland are more than concerned that Mr Murney may be a victim of the most blatant abuse of the justice system seen in the last decade.

“We are equally concerned that should this practice of judicial abuse be allowed to continue unabated, it could well threaten the democratic rights of all citizens in the future. We call on all politicians and those opposed to losing their democratic and human rights, to voice their disapproval of such abuses continuing. Justice Watch Ireland calls for Stephen Murney to be released on unconditional bail as a matter of urgency. We believe his detention is nothing short of ‘interment by definition’. ‘Internment by remand’ is being claimed by many, in which we are currently investigating, but in this case our conclusion is that Mr Murney truly is interned by definition with the use of the remand process currently being implemented.”

“Political policing and internment is nothing new. They are practices which have been in place for some decades, practices that we in Eirigi have been to fore in highlighting, exposing and opposing. As a result, those of us who have been most vocal in opposing these unjust activities and our families have paid a heavy personal price in the form of constant PSNI harassment, frequent ‘stop and searches’, house raids, assaults, threats, intimidation and ultimately, the loss of liberty.” Stephen Murney.

Stephen Murney is imprisoned, not because he has done or planned to do anything unlawful, but he is in jail due his dissident political views and because he is an active, outspoken and effective Republican and community activist. In a normal, civil society in another place there would have to be substantial evidence against Stephen Murney to warrant the serious charges he now faces. But the British occupied North of Ireland is not a normal, ordinary place. So, instead of these charges being clearly recognised as weak and ridiculous, in the six counties, they are depicted by the PSNI as a very grave matter and bring the prospect of lengthy prison sentence if Stephen is convicted.

The British authorities have used a policy of selective internment against Stephen Murney in an attempt to silence him and other opposition. A political activist is now in effect interned without trial on the basis of the most ridiculous “evidence”. Stephen Murney has done nothing wrong, but freely exercised his democratic right to attend political demonstrations, to take photographs and to be critic of PSNI actions and of British rule in the north of Ireland. Stephen Murney is innocent and his imprisonment is utterly unjust. The flimsy charges against him should be dropped and Stephen should be immediately and unconditionally released.

“Internment was wrong and unjust in previous years and it remains as equally wrong and unjust today. I would encourage all those that disagree with its continued use to organise and publicly oppose internment in its current form.” Stephen Murney.

For those wanting more information and to support Stephen Murney you can contact: Free Stephen Murney Now on Facebook.

If you would like to write to Stephen, his address is: Stephen Murney, Roe 4, Maghaberry Jail, Old Road, Ballinderry Upper, Lisburn, BT28, 2PT, Northern Ireland.

*Steven Katsineris is Vice Chairman of the James Connolly Association, Melbourne.   

Next article – UNAC statement on the conviction of Bradley Manning

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