Imprisoned éirígí member Stephen Murney is now set to spend Christmas in Maghaberry Prison. On Friday (December 21) the Newry man refused to accept the onerous bail conditions that the Belfast High Court sought to impose on him. The proposed conditions included:
Stephen was arrested on November 28th following a raid on his home by Britain’s paramilitary police. Three days later Stephen was charged with a number of ‘offences’ including that of ‘collecting and distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists’ and ‘possession of articles likely to be of use to terrorists’. These charges are extremely serious, bringing with them the possibility of lengthy custodial sentences upon conviction.
In any normal society the police would be required to produce significant evidence against an individual before such charges could be brought, particularly when the individual is likely to be remanded into custody. But occupied Ireland is far from a normal society. When Stephen Murney appeared in court the PSNI opposed bail being granted on the basis of the ‘evidence’ that they had ‘recovered’ at Steven’s house; evidence that was greeted with peals of laughter from the packed public gallery.
In support of the charge of ‘collecting and distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists’, the PSNI cited a large number of photographs of police that they recovered from Stephen’s computer. On first hearing this may sound like solid evidence, but closer inspection reveals a different story.
The vast bulk of the images in question were not actually created by Stephen but were in fact downloaded from the internet. Many of these images date back as far at the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s. Anyone who has used a search engine to research any of the tumultuous events of the last forty years in occupied Ireland may find that their computer also contains large numbers of images which are now deemed to be ‘of use to terrorists.’
Other images of the police were taken at political protests, commemorations and other public events. These photos were taken in full view of the police, a point conceded to by the PSNI in court. If the taking of such photos constituted an offence why wasn’t Steven arrested when he actually took them?
In charging Steven with ‘distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists’ the PSNI cited his use of Facebook and other internet platforms to post images of the police. Again these photographs were taken of the police in public and on duty at political protests, commemorations and so forth. In essence the PSNI are alleging that anyone who uses the internet to post images of the police is ‘distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists’.
It is common practice across the world for political activists to take photographs of the police at political protests and demonstrations. Indeed legal and human rights organisations routinely advise activists to document police behaviour and harassment. When activists in Syria, Libya and elsewhere use social media to highlight alleged police malpractice, brutality and violence they are applauded by the political establishment and the media. Yet when activists do the same thing in Ireland they are deemed to be ‘terrorists’.
In relation to the charge of ‘possession of articles likely to be of use to terrorists’ the PSNI point to two ball-bearing airguns, berets, trousers and jumpers recovered from Steven’s home. The fact that the trousers, jumpers and berets were clearly part of a flute band uniform seems to have gone unnoticed by the PSNI. And Britain’s cops also seem to be suffering from an information blind spot in relation to ‘BB guns’ – they aren’t actually guns! Airguns are freely and widely available across Ireland. If such items are now deemed to be of ‘use to terrorists’ it can be expected that thousands of Irish citizens will soon be charged just like Stephen Murney.
Stephen Murney’s case marks a worrying escalation in Britain’s counter-insurgency strategy in Ireland. A political activist is now effectively interned without trial on the basis of the most laughable of ‘evidence’. It is abundantly clear that Stephen has been singled out because he has been a consistent, articulate and loud critic of the PSNI and the wider British occupation.
Those who claim to support that most basic of rights – the right to politically organise free from state persecution – need to mobilise in support of Steven Murney. If the PSNI and the British state are allowed to continue with their prosecution of Steven Murney it will set a disturbing precedent. History has shown that if one such precedent is set it will only be a matter of time before the one becomes the many.
Speaking in relation to Stephen’s refusal to accept the High Court’s bail conditions, éirígí General Secretary Breandán Mac Cionnaith said, “Today’s bail hearing again demonstrated the very flimsy and nebulous nature of the charges on which Stephen Murney is being held. I had an opportunity to speak by phone with Stephen this afternoon after he had been visited by his mother, his wife and his young son.
“Stephen is married with a young son. The extreme conditions which the court sought to impose upon him included not being permitted to live in his own home with his own family. Among the many other conditions were stipulations that he could not live in, or enter Newry at any time; had to live several miles away from his wife and young son; report daily to a PSNI barracks in Newtownhamilton; live under a strict curfew and wear an electronic tagging device.
“Stephen said that these conditions meant that he would have only the most minimal contact with his wife and young son and that forcing him to live elsewhere was solely designed to penalise his family.
“Stephen also said that as he is totally innocent of the charges laid against him, he is not prepared to permit either himself or his family to be humiliated by the courts or the PSNI. Neither is he prepared to be branded as a criminal by wearing an electronic tagging device.
“This is a very principled position which Stephen has taken. It is also a very difficult one, particularly at this time of the year, as Christmas is a time when families should be together and not be kept apart as a result of draconian conditions imposed by courts in response to demands by the PSNI.
“We have no doubt that the PSNI case against Stephen will eventually collapse and be completely exposed as a totally vindictive, fabricated and unjust action.”
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