In the Media

Protester fined for naming Gulf war dead at Cenotaph

PUBLISHED April 13, 2006

An anti-war activist who demonstrated at the Cenotaph by reading out the names of UK soldiers killed in Iraq was fined ?350 yesterday.

Milan Rai was also told to pay ?150 costs and now has a criminal record after the latest case under a controversial new law.

He was found guilty of breaching the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) which bans demonstrations around Parliament that have not been agreed with police.

District Judge Nicholas Evans, at Bow Street Magistrates' Court, told Rai: "You knew what the law was. You, quite with your eyes wide open, decided not to comply with it [the law]." He accepted that Rai had been "polite at all times".

Rai, the founder of an anti-war group, Justice Not Vengeance (JNV), had argued that the SOCPA legislation banning unauthorised protests inside a Parliament "exclusion zone" ran counter to the European Human Rights Act.

But the judge rejected his arguments. He said Rai had not been taking part in a spontaneous show of dissent, but had organised an event and deliberately failed to get formal authorisation as a matter of principle.

Rai contacted police in advance of the demonstration, on Oct 25 last year, but refused to fill in paperwork required for its authorisation.

The day before the demonstration, Rai, 40, from Hastings, east Sussex, posted a statement on the JNV website saying: "The demonstration is unauthorised. Attendance has a high risk of arrest.

"The organiser has been told by the police he will be arrested as an organiser under new SOCA (sic) repressive laws." Rai and Maya Evans, a fellow protester, were seen demonstrating at the Cenotaph at around 9.30am on Oct 25. Rai was served with a "notice of unauthorised demonstration" leaflet by police and given 10 minutes to stop protesting within the exclusion zone. He was arrested after this time.

After the hearing Rai said he would not "willingly" pay the fine.

He said he was consulting with the civil rights group, Liberty which represented him during the case.

He planned to ask the High Court to rule that the SOCPA was incompatible with Article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

The judge said he thought Parliament had been "very much alive to the need to have the interest of demonstrators and their convention rights protected, particularly in relation to Articles 10 and 11", when it framed the legislation.

Last December, Evans, 25, also of Hastings, east Sussex, became the first person to be convicted under the Act, in relation to the Cenotaph incident.

Evans, a chef, was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of ?100.