Friday, 30 November 2007

Courting defiance: defending Aamer Anwar

Glasgow Sheriff Court (an apparent exchange)

Sheriff: Have you anything to say before sentencing?
Accused: As sure as God's my judge, your honour, I'm not guilty.
Sheriff: He's not, I am, you are, six months.

An amusing line, if I recall, from the fine film on Jimmy Boyle, A Sense of Freedom, no doubt typical of the many theatrical exchanges that have graced Scotland's courtrooms. Maybe the guy in the dock just needed a decent lawyer.

The Scottish judiciary have shown little hesitation over the years in locking-up the 'men of violence' - with little social regard for how such violence comes about. These days, they seem as efficient in curbing the freedoms of not only those who merely imagine acts of violence, but also their legal representatives.

An impressive campaign is presently underway to defend Glasgow-based human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, who is facing a serious contempt of court action following post-trial comments he made on the conviction of his client Mohammed Atif Siddiqui. Jailed for eight years, Atif is the first person to be convicted in Scotland under the Terrorism Act 2006.

The severity of the sentence handed-down in this case is ready-evidence of how the Muslim community in the UK is being monitored and demonised. Atif was punished for accessing 'subversive' internet sites, illustrating the state's new understanding and application of 'thought control'. Now the establishment is going after those who defend those 'errant' surfers.

But the effort to silence Aamer has only heightened his political and legal profile. During a recent meeting (on Palestine and Resistance) at Glasgow University, Aamer recounted the time when, as a student there, he had his mouth kicked-in by police in nearby Ashton Lane after being chased for putting up campaign flyposters. When a bloodied Aamer asked one of the officers why they had resorted to such brutality, he replied: "That's what happens to black boys with big mouths".

As a fellow Glasgow student at the time, I recall the subsequent meeting, with Aamer, broken teeth in hand, declaring that he wouldn't be silenced. Aamer and campus others had organised a large occupation of the Principal's office (which, with limited persuasion, I found myself part of) in protest at the incoming abolition of student grants. The boot in Aamer's mouth was, no doubt, meant as a timely warning to this up-and-coming activist.

Sixteen years later, a more 'respectable' boot is being used to effect Aamer's 'compliance'. But, as with the cruder methods noted, the present efforts of the state have only served to embolden Aamer, while giving voice to an expansive network of support, now including leading lawyers, MPs and MSPs.

Listening to Aamer speak made me reflect on just how more focused those forces of compliance have become in seeking to punish the "black boys with big mouths" - or, "Muslims and others with legitimate political concerns", as we may more reasonably call them.

As ever, populist media demonology has played its dutiful part. The Daily Record, for example - Scotland's 'very own' exponent of homely, dumb-the-mind hubris - predictably had Aamer down as an "out of order" "firebrand lawyer" daring to question the tariff handed-down on this "wanabee suicide bomber".

This ugly branding of lawyers as 'friends of terrorists' is being conflated - again, through perverse media language - with the growing vilification of immigrants. The assaults on asylum seekers' rights is consistent with the government's push-and-shove determination to secure increased emergency powers of arrest and detention.

The ongoing Home Office persecution of Palestinian refugee and political activist Fatima Helow here in Glasgow is one such disturbing example of the 'asylum-seeker-terrorist-suspect' agenda. Fatima is currently living in a state of demeaning limbo after losing her leave-to-stay appeal. Witness to the brutal massacre at Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, Fatima has also seen a contentious judicial review of her case refused.

The attack on Aamer Anwar is an evident part of that same process: in this case, a denial of the right to speak on behalf of Atif and his family; a creeping erosion of the lawyer-client relationship.

This mood of state-judicial intolerance is apparent elsewhere, too. In Ireland, the government is trying to pass legislation making lawyers financially liable for the court costs of failed immigration cases undertaken, thus undermining the fundamental rights of non-nationals to legal representation.

These attacks are a new front in the climate of state-imposed fear, a way of warning human-rights-minded lawyers like Aamer Anwar to 'consider their careers' before 'opening their mouths'.

Meanwhile, as Aamer awaits a date for the contempt hearing, he has accepted a well-backed nomination to run for Rector of Glasgow University. A nice irony - and indication of a principled lawyer unlikely to keep his mouth shut.
Defend Aamer Anwar


Sport Selections said...

Good post John

I have been saying something similar


joe90 kane said...

Did you see this the other day -
Race claim lawyer 'not credible'
BBC Scotland
10 Jan 2007

By the way JH
I enjoy reading your comments and stuff on the Media Lens messege board.

Is there a website for the Scottish Friends of Palestine?

all the best mate and keep up the great work!

John Hilley said...

Many thanks, leftstuff and joe90. SfoP don't have a running site - most info at the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity site:

Pleased to see you reading Media Lens, joe.