In a new threat to civil liberties, an arms company is attempting to use anti-stalking legislation to undermine the right to protest.
EDO, a US-owned arms company whose bomb component were used in the US wars on Iraq, which has a factory in Brighton, has applied for an injunction against protesters using the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
If issued, the injunction would directly affect 14 named individuals and two named organisations, Smash EDO and Bombs out of Brighton (which no longer exists).
Three other peace groups, Sussex Action for Peace, Hove Action for Peace and a Sussex University anti-war group, have been named in evidence set to be heard by the High Court on Thursday of this week.
Also named are the Brighton Quakers, some of whom held silent vigils outside the factory.
If the injunction is issued by the High Court, it could affect thousands of people in Brighton. The terms of the injunction are sweeping. They include the enforcement of an exclusion zone that could deny access to Lewes Road and the surrounding area.
Both of Brighton’s universities, which many of the activists attend, have major sites on this road.
Demonstrations outside the EDO factory would only be allowed between 3.30pm and 6pm on Thursdays — when many people are at work.
Gatherings of more than ten people outside the factory would be prohibited, as would singing, playing musical instruments or using anything that amplifies sound.
The right to protest against the factory would be effectively removed. But the anti-stalking legislation being used by EDO goes even further.
Some of the individuals named in the injunction would be banned from going within 100 yards of the houses of EDO’s 160 employees.
But those named do not know the addresses of these employees. Simply walking down the wrong street in the city would breach the terms of the injunction.
Paddy O’Keeffe is the chair of Sussex Action for Peace and Respect’s parliamentary candidate for Hove & Portslade. He told Socialist Worker, “This is a dangerous and draconian action by EDO with the cooperation of Sussex police.
“The most worrying aspect is the sheer number of people, over 1,000, that this could affect. Complying with this injunction, if it is passed, would put people under virtual house arrest.
“We don’t know who all the employees of EDO are, or where they live. There is an implication that we do, and that we intend to harass these people and their families. This is simply not the case.
“This injunction is unconscionable. Throughout the proposed injunction we are referred to as extremists. This is a deliberate attempt criminalise dissent. The politics of fear — these attacks on people’s civil liberties — mean that the war on Iraq will be an election issue.
“I have taken part in peaceful protests outside the EDO factory, and I intend to take part again.”
Other activists have highlighted that Brighton was recently made a United Nations Peace Messenger City. One member of Sussex Action for Peace said that Brighton should be a beacon for peace, and for peace related activity.
The Quakers have held two silent vigils outside the EDO factory. A statement from the Quakers said, “We are concerned about fact that, although Brighton is a Peace Messenger City, it has an arms factory.
“We are demonstrating about that, and to support the right to protest.”