Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Gary McKinnon protest report (Guest post)

This is a guest post from Judy and Kalvis Jansons

On the cold but dry afternoon of Tuesday, 15 December, a protest against the proposed extradition of Gary McKinnon by the US government was held outside the Home Office in London by Janis Sharp, Gary's mother, and other supporters. The protest lasted from 12:00 until 14:00 and when we arrived at 12:30, there were about 50 people present. Most of the people were enclosed in a kind of pen on one side of the Home Office, and two police officers stood behind this enclosure throughout most of the protest.

MPs from all political parties joined the protest. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, was already there when we arrived speaking to the press, and later joined us in the pen. Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, also came along to show his support, and spoke with a number of the protestors. He told us that this kind of demonstration really does help to send the message, and thought that there was a glimmer of hope for Gary. Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall, and David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield, Southgate were also present. Representatives from Liberty were at the protest too.

Many of the people attending the protest had heard about it and been interacting with each other on Twitter, and while the protest was going on, some people were tweeting on their mobiles. People held posters with slogans on such as "Fair UK trial for Gary McKinnon", "UK
law for UK citizens", "No extradition for Gary McKinnon". Janis Sharp led chanting, which everyone joined in with, of "UK trial or no trial", "No way to the USA" and others and this was continued by other people when she became hoarse.

We had written a letter to the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, which we wanted to hand in to the Home Office while we were at the protest. This proved to be much more complicated than just delivering it to the Home Office reception desk. One of the police officers arranged for
some Home Office officials to come out to the front of the building and receive the letter from us to give to Alan Johnson.

Janis Sharp made a very good effort to speak to protestors individually and thank them for their support, and everyone present conducted themselves impeccably throughout the protest. This includes the two policemen present, who were courteous and helpful in the way
that people used to expect of police officers.

None of the people that we spoke to would condone criminality of any kind but merely wished to protect a vulnerable man without any ill intent from a disproportionate response to things that he foolishly did driven by his Asperger's Syndrome. The Americans are fortunate that the person who got into their military computer systems was such a person as Gary McKinnon, someone who had no malicious intent, but was simply following an interest too obsessively. The protestors, quite reasonably, simply request a fair trial in the UK for this vulnerable person and for due consideration to be given to the extraordinary stress that he has been under for so many years.

Gary McKinnon has become a pawn in a political game which is played by people with no compassion for one of their more vulnerable countrymen. As Nick Clegg says, "It is the basic duty of a Government to protect its citizens." And the common sentiment expressed by so many of the protestors is that the Home Secretary has taken away any pride that we
could have had in this country. We think that Britain should stand for more than this. Very few countries would betray their citizens in the way that Gary McKinnon has been betrayed by ours, and the USA certainly would not. So how did this country become part of such an asymmetrical extradition treaty?

We know from his mother that Gary is in an extraordinarily stressed out state, and what he has been subjected to is an extreme form of mental torture. Our personal feeling is that if a British court actually looked at what Gary McKinnon really did, and gave due consideration for his medical condition and the extent to which he and his family have already suffered, they would surely think that this suffering has already been far too great a punishment and would hopefully conclude that no further action against him was necessary.

If Gary McKinnon's diagnosis with Asperger's Syndrome had occurred earlier, his family would have known to look out for possibly obsessive behaviour and avoided this current situation. So Gary McKinnon has been failed by this country in many ways over a long period.

Surely it is time for Gary McKinnon's nightmare to end.

We finish by wishing Gary the best of luck and we pray that the Home Secretary remembers who he is there to serve.

Judy and Kalvis Jansons

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