'IF YOU defend yourself against a racist attacker, you get a life sentence like Satpal Ram. If you don't defend yourself, you end up six feet under like Stephen Lawrence.' So said Lawrence family solicitor Imran Khan to a packed public meeting last week at the House of Commons called by the Free Satpal Ram Campaign.
Satpal Ram is the victim of racism twice over - first at the hands of a thug, and second at the hands of the British state. He has now spent 13 years in prison for defending himself against a racist attack. In 1986 Satpal was eating a meal in a Bengali restaurant when he was attacked with a broken bottle by a drunk racist called Clive Pierce. Pierce was 131/2 stone. Satpal was 91/2 stone. Satpal, fearing for his life, defended himself with a small knife he used in his job at a warehouse. Both Pierce and Satpal went to hospital. But Pierce pulled out his drip and discharged himself. He died shortly after.
Satpal was arrested for murder. At court he was given terrible advice by a solicitor, who told him that he couldn't plead self defence. Satpal was given ten years for murder. Because Satpal has refused to 'admit his guilt' he has been punished by the state. As campaigner Gargi Battacharya told the meeting, 'Satpal has been in prison for 13 years. It hasn't been an easy ride. He has borne the brunt of the system. He has been moved 55 different times to make sure he cannot contact his supporters. He has been in since he was 19 years old. He is now 32. It's a big chunk of his life.'
As Satpal himself has written, 'I have endured mental cruelty. I am often held in total isolation in solitary confinement, having to endure prolonged deprivation, psychological abuse, constant intimidation, starvation diets and physical torture. On occasions I have been shackled by a body belt and thrown into strip cells, having to sleep on the floor naked for days on end.'
Satpal's case has now been taken up by solicitor Gareth Peirce. She has represented other people suffering injustice, like the Birmingham Six. She told the meeting, 'This is an emergency. We do not have very much time.' Gareth explained that Satpal's latest parole hearing is coming up, and massive pressure needs to be put on the authorities to release him. She also explained how the Criminal Cases Review Commission, set up to look into injustices such as Satpal's, was 'not minded to reopen the case'.
She added that Satpal's imprisonment in 1986 had to be seen in the context of the British state's crackdown against black people after the Handsworth riot in Birmingham the year before. 'Satpal has been convicted and destroyed by everyone in the legal system. It is a total national disgrace - the worst example of injustice and racism,' said Gareth.
Satpal's case has been gathering a lot of support, including the band Asian Dub Foundation (ADF). They have publicised the injustice on a record, Free Satpal Ram. On Monday they held a big London fundraiser for the campaign. ADF's John Pandit told the meeting, 'If this case could be known across the country this could really start shifting.' Everyone should raise this example of racist injustice wherever they can and force the British state to release Satpal Ram.
Contact the Free Satpal Ram Campaign, 101 Villa Road, Handsworth, Birmingham B19 1NH for petitions and model letters.
Straw lets police off
IMRAN KHAN spoke at the meeting of his anger that 'nothing has changed since the Lawrence inquiry'. He said, 'What I find galling is that the Labour Party have chosen to use the Lawrences to say, 'We're anti-racist - look what we've done.' This government has gone back on nearly everything it committed itself to.'
Imran mentioned that the government announced in the Queen's Speech it was extending the Race Relations Act to cover public bodies such as the police and prison service. However, there is anger that New Labour has watered down the proposals to avoid doing anything about tackling the institutional racism highlighted by the Lawrence inquiry. Although the behaviour of individual police officers will be covered by the act, the fact that black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people will not.
Commission for Racial Equality head Sir Herman Ouseley, who is said to be stepping down because of disappointment with New Labour, slammed home secretary Jack Straw. Ouseley said, 'We are astonished the government has decided to restrict the changes in law to this. It will mean that the drive against institutional racism called for in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry will be hampered from the start.'
Free Satpal Ram website: www.ncadc.demon.co.uk
The Asian Dub Foundation website also has information: www.asiandubfoundation.com