On Saturday 23rd January at 12pm over 2000 photographers gathered in Trafalgar Square to challenge Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows police and security guards increasing powers to stop and search, detain and arrest photographers. The demonstration was organised by the group I’m a Photographer, Not A Terrorist (PHNAT) via facebook and twitter. Armed with a humble Canon point-and-shoot piece of poo I went to investigate. My two subsequent hours of camera-envy were overshadowed by a lively demo and huge turn-out, and a serious civil liberties message brought across in a good-natured atmosphere… ‘perhaps thanks to almost no police presence?’, one nearby demonstrator wondered.
“We must work together now to stop this before photography becomes a part of history rather than a way of recording it” reads PHNAT’s website. The arrests of high-profile photographers detained or arrested under section 44 for no reason have contributed to the immediacy of the message. If you have ever been to a demonstration, had police pictures taken of your innocent, peaceful, doe-eyed self, as you struggle to keep the courage to keep taking photos without your camera being confiscated, the huge numbers taking part in PHNAT demos may well make you feel slightly better. While the Met’s website now gives a very measured description of police powers to intervene in media-related activity, many photographers complain that these powers are frequently abused and misunderstood. The law and photographers’ rights are very unclear to most.
If you see a two-year old with a camera report it immediately…
In a brilliant stop and search parody, a ‘Vigilance Committee’ wound its way through the centre of the crowd. Dressed as police officers, and closely protected by a man on stilts in a helmet/balaclava/CCTV strapped-to-head ensemble, they arrested unsuspecting photographers and onlookers.
As soon as the stop-and-search ‘guilt certificate’ they issued was complete (see below), they provided their criminals with two penalty options: six years forced labour or life-time contributor to the Vigilance Committee. Most chose six years’ forced labour.
Class: None, Sexual Orientation: Rarely.
One photographer told me at the end of the demo ‘ our hope is that by organizing this demonstration we’ll make the police re-think their strategies. The freedom to record and document history is a really important one, and a lot of press photographers are experiencing increasing difficulty with the police and security guards. I think at the moment a lot of people just don’t understand the Terrorism Act, police officers included’.
I’m just glad to see so many photographers made it. Were it not for a camera being in the right place at the right time there are many human and civil rights abuses that would have never been uncovered.
Magda, a 26-year old photography student from Krakow, Poland told me: ‘I’m here because I want to make the point that just because you have a camera, it doesn’t make you a terrorist or a criminal. I heard about this on facebook but I didn’t expect to find so many people! I’m tired of being treated like I’m doing something illegal when I take photos at demonstrations for example, at times and places where it’s really important to accurately record what’s going on, and my boyfriend, who works for a magazine here, has been stopped by the police quite a few times. I’ve always wanted to be a bit more bold with my photography, so it’s cool to see so many people here, it makes you feel less alone, I hope it has some kind of effect!”
- I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER … not a terrorist!
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- Mass action at Hazelwood Coal Power Station