Archive for January 2010
Many long-established campaign groups would struggle to achieve anything like this level of coverage – yet in just a few months the 10:23 campaign has gone from nowhere to getting national exposure several days in a row.
Here’s just one example from the BBC:
Homeopathy sceptics have staged a mass “overdose” of homeopathic remedies, in a bid to prove they have no effect.
Protesters ate whole bottles of tablets at branches of Boots in places such as Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, London, Leicester, Edinburgh and Birmingham.
They have asked the pharmacy chain to stop selling the remedies, which they call “scientifically absurd”.
The Society of Homeopaths called it a “stunt”. Boots said it followed industry guidelines on homeopathy.
From 2005 to 2008 the NHS spent almost £12m on homeopathic treatments, according to a 2009 Freedom Of Information request by Channel 4 News…
The demonstrations were organised by the Merseyside Skeptics Society (MSS).
Michael Marshall, from the MSS, said: “We believe that they shouldn’t be selling sugar pills to people who are sick. Homeopathy never works any better than a placebo. The remedies are diluted so much that there is nothing in them.”
Mr Marshall said demonstrations were also planned in Canada, Spain, the US and Australia.
The Society of Homeopaths said it did not expect the protesters to suffer any adverse reactions from taking large quantities of the remedies.
I’m grateful to Reverend Stephen Sizer for getting back to me (having initially chosen not to comment) with a detailed clarification of his position in the recent “Seismic Shock” controversy, which I am reproducing below. Again I have no position on the original argument but having given space to one side of the dispute, I felt it was important that Stephen Sizer have the opportunity to give his side of the story. He says:
I approached the police because I felt my life was put in danger by his defamatory statements. In the last year we have had a rather violent break in to our home, had computers and cameras stolen, then my car has been vandalised and more recently broken into and possessions stolen. I receive anonymous phone calls and very nasty emails on a regular basis. Other academics, journalists and clergy targetted on the SS blog have also been in correspondance with the police.
In the last 18 months SS (I think he chose the name as a play on my name so it was very personal) has associated me with holocaust deniers, white supremists, antisemites, islamists, terrorists, suicide bombers, and the 7.7 bombers, on a weekly if not daily basis. He used anonimity to do so. I repudiate racism and anti-semitism as well as his allegations unequivocally. I believe my occasional blog articles as well as published writings give evidence of this. I feel no need to clarify or justify my theological views further which are entirely consistent with mainstream conservative evangelicalism.
Politically, I uphold the rule of international law, I want to see the Arab-Israeli conflict resolved peacefully and diplomatically with a secure Israel and viable independent Palestine – the postion of the UK government, EU, USA and UN – so hardly controversial, except in Zionist circles. I have written a couple of books on Chritian Zionism and US fundamentalism, which I regard as a threat to the security of Israel as well as future of Palestine, so I understand why SS and his friends do not like me.
The police initially consulted me for advice (not the other way round) on extremist groups on the edge of the Christian community. On their advice I approached the local police to investigate whether the articles posted on the SS blog constituted harrassment and incitement to religious hatred.
Their investigations led to the identification of the individual. Apparently he agreed to remove certain material and apologised. I was asked to inform them if it happened again. The police have given me and my family a measure of additional protection. I do not know his name but believe he is a Christian living in Leeds. It makes me sad that a Christian would use anonimity to harrass other Christians in this way.
I don’t plan to respond to him personally. He has many friends who have already expressed their opinions quite plainly and explicitly this week. The invitation I made to him a year ago to meet and talk through our differences personally remains open. I am happy now to leave the matter in the hands of the police.
Comment: In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I lambast the tendency of the UK media to assume that “balanced” reporting entails giving equal weight to two opposing views, while remaining stubbornly neutral about the actual merits of those views. In my view commentators should not only present information, but also be up-front about what they believe that information points to.
On the basis of what I’ve seen so far, I do not believe that Reverend Sizer is a racist or an anti-semite, and can well understand why he would take exception to any such claim. But neither do I believe that Joseph Weissman (aka Seismic Shock) would be guilty of “harrassment” – a criminal offence – if he had made such a defamatory claim on his blog, however many times it happened. Clearly if Reverend Sizer has had his home and car attacked and received threatening phone calls, then this is a serious problem for which Police involvement is quite justified. But I have not seen any evidence that Weissman or his blog are in any way responsible for those crimes.
There does, however, seem to be evidence that “harrassment” has been dangerously vaguely defined under the current version of the law, and that as a result the police are getting involved in disputes that should, at most, be problems for the civil courts to deal with.
Update – Having initially chosen not comment, Reverend Sizer has got back to me in some detail, for which I’m very grateful.
Stephen Sizer has now replied to my request for clarification of his reasons for calling in the Police over his spat with the blogger “Seismic Shock”. Reverend Sizer states that “I do not wish to comment and am happy to leave the matter to the Police”.
This is obviously his business, but it does mean that his critics have pretty much a clear run on this issue. Sizer must surely have realised by now that they aren’t going to shut up about it, however many times he threatens them.
I am genuinely interested to know what Reverend Sizer’s perspective on this issue actually is. At the moment all we have is a story about a representative of our only state-sponsored Church making a lot of very strident comments about the political situation in the Middle East but then calling the Police when some people who (even more stridently) disagree say mean stuff about him on the internet. Surely if Reverend Sizer really has the courage of his convictions he will be prepared to stand by his words, and his actions?
Whatever the truth about Reverend Sizer‘s political views, calling the police to deal with a blogging spat seems completely absurd – and of course the fact that the police would actually indulge such a request seems even more disturbing.
I’ve contacted the Reverend to hear his side of he story, but he has now got back to me saying that he does not want to comment (see update 4 below).
Update 1 – Just to clarify that what follows below is a direct quote from the blogger ‘Seismic Shock’ writing on the website “Harry’s Place” – I have no direct involvement in this issue, nor do I have a view on the rights and wrongs of the original argument between Sizer and his critics. But I am concerned at reports that the police are becoming involved in a bloggers’ dispute.
Update 2 – Index on Censorship report that West Yorkshire Police say they visited the blogger after receiving a complaint of “harassment”, and that he then “voluntarily” agreed to take down his website. The implication seems to be that writing mean things about someone on the internet is now on a par with prank calls, hate-mail, bunny-boiling etc…
Update 3 – Interestingly there seems to be a pattern here – this is a quote from Oliver Kamm, back in 2008:
“Yesterday morning I got a telephone call from a bewildered gentleman at Abingdon Police Station saying he had received a complaint from a Mr Neil Clark. Mr Clark (pictured) is the author of such essays as “Milosevic, Prisoner of Conscience” and (regarding the Iraqi interpreters in fear of their lives) “Keep these Quislings Out”. He is also an imaginative theorist of global conspiracy… I learned from my interlocutor… that Mr Clark was upset about disobliging references to him on the World Wide Web. Mr Clark had meticulously assembled a file of these, to which presumably this post will be added…. Mr Clark maintained… that he was the victim of a campaign of criminal harassment orchestrated by me.”
Update 4 (30/1/10): Stephen Sizer has now replied to my request for clarification, stating that “I do not wish to comment and am happy to leave the matter to the Police”. This is obviously his business, but it does mean that his critics have pretty much a clear run on this issue. Reverend Sizer must surely must have realised by now that they aren’t going to shut up about it, however many times he threatens them. Equally, I am genuinely interested to know what Reverend Sizer’s perspective on this issue actually is. At the moment all we have is a story about a representative of our state-sponsored Church making a lot of very strident comments about the political situation in the Middle East but then calling the Police when some people who disagree say mean stuff about him on the internet. Surely if Reverend Sizer really has the courage of his convictions he will be prepared to stand by his words, and his actions?
Update 5 – 31/1/10 I’m pleased to say that Reverend Sizer has now got back to me with a detailed response.
From Harry’s Place:
At 10am on Sunday 29th November 2009, I received a visit from two policemen regarding my activities in running the Seismic Shock blog. (Does exposing a vicar’s associations with extremists make me a criminal?, I wondered initially). A sergeant from the Horsforth Police related to me that he had received complaints via Surrey Police from Rev Sizer and from Dr Anthony McRoy – a lecturer at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology – who both objected to being associated with terrorists and Holocaust deniers.
(Context: Sizer has associated with some very nasty terrorists and Holocaust deniers; McRoy has delivered a paper at a Khomeinist theological conference in Iran comparing Hezbollah’s struggle against Israel via suicide bombing with the Christian’s struggle against sin via the atoning death of Jesus, and describes the world’s most prominent Holocaust denier as an “intelligent, humble, charismatic, and charming” man who “gives quick, extensive and intelligent answers to any question, mixed with genial humour”).
The sergeant made clear that this was merely an informal chat, in which I agreed to delete my original blog (http://seismicshock.blogspot.com) but maintain my current one (http://seismicshock.wordpress.com). The policeman related to me that his police force had been in contact with the ICT department my previous place of study, and had looked through my files, and that the head of ICT at my university would like to remind me that I should not be using university property in order to associate individuals with terrorists and Holocaust deniers (I am sure other people use university property to make political comments, but nevermind).
With my research on Reverend Sizer’s associations with terrorists and Holocaust deniers making its way into a publication of the Society of Biblical Literature, I was quite content to hold my peace. However, now that Reverend Sizer is now misrepresenting what has happened in my case in order to intimidate others, now is the time to speak up.
A Christian blogger – “Vee” of LivingJourney, who is based in Australia – linked to my blog as a resource for Christians to learn about anti-Semitism in the Church, including “lots of info on Stephen Sizer and Sabeel”.
Rev Sizer left her this comment:
You must take a little more care who you brand as anti-semitic otherwise you too will be receiving a caution from the police as the young former student of Leeds did recently. One more reference to me and you will be reported.
Sure, Stephen Sizer managed to somehow arrange a police visit to me from within the UK, but does Sizer genuinely think he can use police on the other side of the world to this effect?
Why is Reverend Sizer claiming that I received a police caution, when the police stressed I did not receive a caution?
…Who is Reverend Sizer reporting to, and why does Reverend Sizer genuinely feel he has the power to close down debate by threatening police action? Why call the cops rather than answer his critics?
“Justice” Jackson’s charlatan’s charter – a self-serving stitch-up by our bloated legal establishment
It’s widely acknowledged that one fundamental problem with our draconian libel system is that it’s possible for a defendant to win their case in court, yet still lose thousands of pounds through unrecovered costs.
This effectively gives the super-rich an absolute right to impose what amounts to an arbitrary fine on anyone who criticises them – even when those criticisms are totally justified.
The ‘paradigm case’, (to borrow a phrase from today’s extraordinarily ill-conceived report by Lord “Justice” Jackson), is that of vitamin salesman and AIDS denialist Matthias Rath, who sued the Guardian newspaper and Ben Goldace after they pointed out some uncomfortable truths about Rath’s activities in South Africa. Rath lost the case in court, and the defendants were fully vindicated, yet the Guardian still lost over £100,000.
Justice Jackson has today proposed to make the situation even worse. Under the current system, successful defendants are at least able to recover a portion of their costs. Jackson – after consulting closely with, among others, members of the legal profession who benefit so handsomely from the current system – wants to change things around so that the defendant can recover nothing. Even if the overall burden of costs is reduced from its current extraordinarily high level, a defendant who has been found wholly innocent of the alleged libel will still end up thousands of pounds out of pocket.
To a rich, titled, former high court judge such as Lord Jackson, this may seem like a trifling matter. But to a writer or academic faced with the threat of a crippling libel suit by a powerful multi-national simply for speaking the truth about their activities, this will, in even more cases than now, mean that they have little choice but to settle the case out of court and issue a grovelling apology, even when the truth of the alleged defamation is clearly demonstrable.
Under the changes recommended by Justice Jackson, rich liars and charlatans will now find it even easier to suppress legitimate criticisms of their behaviour – and unscrupulous law firms will continue to profit as a result. Even more libel defendants than under the current system will effectively be denied their right to a fair trial. Even more than now, freedom of speech will be the exclusive preserve of the rich. It’s difficult to believe that it could not have occurred to “Justice” Jackson that this would be the effect of what he is proposing.
The Committee that drew up the report can be contacted here.
Tell Withers LLP where to stick it – UK law firm in new “Contempt of Parliament” libel abuse scandal
Tell Withers LLP where to stick it
In line with our absolute right to report on the proceedings of Parliament (I’m going here with what the government says, rather than Carter Ruck’s questionable opinion), I am reproducing a “Private and confidential” email sent by Withers LLP to John Hemming MP, demanding that he undertake not to repeat an allegation that he has previously made against their (un-named) client “particularly in Parliament”.
The Speaker John Bercow has made the rather savvy move of publishing this threatening email in the Parliamentary record, which means that it ain’t “Private and Confidential” any more, and we are all free to quote from it.
Law firms who attack the sovereignty of Parliament are engaging in political activity, and therefore, in my view, making themselves fair game for peaceful political protest. I’d be interested in hearing any ideas readers might have on this – in the meantime perhaps a good start would be for as many people as possible to reproduce Withers’ “Private and Confidential” email on their own blogs…
Subject: Private and Confidential
Dear Mr Hemming
Thank you for your various e-mails yesterday. My client’s response to the points which you have raised in these and earlier correspondence is as follows.
1.The original leaflet and offending text
It is abundantly clear that the offending text referred to, and would have been understood by those reading it to refer to, our client. You have alleged that the compulsory purchase order (CPO) proceedings involve other parties. However, it is clear from Councillor David Osborne’s evidence given to the public inquiry on 14 July 2009 that he was not aware of any other parties who owned plots or who were objecting to Tesco’s proposals and presenting alternative proposals other than our client. Asda and Sainsburys had already sold their land to Tesco. It is clear from the context of the offending text that you were only referring to plots of land which are part of the CPO and only the plots owned by our client. Even though he was not specifically named, he was clearly identifiable to the thousands of people to whom you distributed your defamatory and maliciously false leaflet.
You were clearly wrong to say that our client purchased his plots with the intention of delaying the Tesco development, as you now admit. Moreover, we do not agree that a landowner objecting to a CPO of his land and who has made very serious alternative proposals for redevelopment can he be guilty of “spoiling tactics” and this defamatory and maliciously false allegation is strongly objected to by our client.
In order to settle this matter we, therefore, require an apology in respect of both the serious allegations plus payment of our client’s costs, a substantial payment to a charity of his choice and an undertaking not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations, particularly in Parliament.
Your threat to make a statement in the House of Commons referring to our client’s alleged “spoiling tactics” in this and other situations and that our client’s threatened proceedings amount to “bullying and an attempt to gag opponents” is tantamount to blackmail. These allegations are untrue as our client is only trying to put right a serious wrong to his reputation. We note that you would only make these allegations under the cover of parliamentary privilege. My client objects very strongly to you doing this and would ensure, via other sources, that the House of Commons were fully appraised of the true situation and not misled.
We deny that our client has been involved in any “spoiling tactics” at the Swan, Maypole or in Worcester. He certainly does not have, as you claim, a track record of “spoiling tactics”. By making such allegations you are clearly aggravating the damages which you will now have to pay to a charity of our client’s choice.
You say that you have spent time meeting my client and talking about the Swan development. Notwithstanding, it seems that you have failed to understand what my client is trying to achieve.
All that my client wants is to vindicate his reputation as swiftly as possible. However, if a suitable correction and apology, costs, damages and an undertaking not to repeat these or any similar defamatory and maliciously false allegations cannot swiftly be agreed, he will have no alternative but to issue proceedings.
We obviously also need to discuss how quickly you can circulate your apology around the constituency. Clearly this will have to be done much more quickly than your usual six weekly cycle in order to alleviate the continuing harm to our client’s reputation.
Meanwhile, could you please inform us, as we requested in our original letter of 29 July 2009, how many copies of the offending text were distributed; who wrote the offending text; who authorised its publication; who published it; and the date of issue.
2.Alternative wording to those to whom the original leaflet was not delivered
As previously indicated today, our client has no objection to replace the offending text with the new text set out in your e-mail of yesterday’s date sent at 12.32 pm.
*UPDATE* – Leo has reportedly now been released on bail, but at the time of writing still has a trumped-up murder charge hanging over him. Full details here.
Nigerian sceptic and humanist leader Leo Igwe was detained this morning, apparently on trumped up charges, and at the behest of a man who stands accused of raping a ten-year-old girl – Leo had been campaigning for justice on the girl’s behalf.
In response to this appeal I phoned the Police who were holding Leo, to ask what the basis was for his detention, and emphasise the international interest and concern around the case. If you would like to support Leo Igwe at this difficult time, this is the appeal from his family:
Leo and his father risk being tortured or murdered in police custody for his role seeking for justice for Ms Daberechi whose parents are very poor and cannot afford two meals in a day not to talk about paying legal charges.
We need to call the Police authorities in Nigeria about the risk of additional international outrage now that this fertile ground of religious bigotry and suppression of justice and human rights has already misled a citizen of ours to suicide in the name of God!
The numbers to call are : AIG Ringin: +2348033225349
PPRO Umuahia: +2347030988278
Com Aloy Okoro: +2348037217361
I am monitoring the situation closely and will report back. But anyone who is able to call will be helpful to scale up the pressure.
When I called the first number on the list and spoke to the police, they denied that Leo was formally under arrest and said that they were simply speaking to him in order to investigate the complaint that had made. They also allowed me to talk to Leo directly. Yet it did seem that Leo had been forcibly detained – he had been visited at his home by a number of men, including several soldiers, who had taken him away to the police station. Leo himself told me that he had, in fact, been arrested.
When I asked Leo what people internationally could do to support him, he emphasised the need to raise awareness both of this case, and the wider campaign of harassment that he and his family have faced over his efforts to secure justice for a young victim of rape.
Leo has reportedly been denied access to a lawyer.
In addition to calling the authorities directly on the numbers above, you can spread the word on Twitter using the hashtag #LeoIgwe, and watch for updates on the case from Alan Henness at Think Humanism.