FITwatch press release concerning the shut down of fitwatch.org.uk by the Metropolitan Police
For immediate release
15th November 2010
*Police shut down activist website after support of demo students*
Police have shut down an activist website for openly supporting the student demonstrations at Millbank. FITwatch – a direct response to police Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) – has a history of challenging excessive police surveillance and breaches of civil rights.
The website was shut down at the request of the Metropolitan police after FITwatch issued advice to students fearful of arrest after the Millbank demonstration. A number of national newspapers made reference to an activist ‘anti-police site’ that urged demonstrators not to panic into giving themselves up.
“Our advice was simply good sense based on the understanding we have of police operations”, said Val Swain, a FITwatch activist. “We don’t want to see students arrested, convicted and criminalised for what was an entirely justified action.”
The Metropolitan police applied to the websites host to suspend the site on the grounds that it was involved in ‘criminal activities’- specifically, ‘attempting to pervert the course of justice’.
“This is an attack on freedom of speech,” said Emily Apple, another FITwatch activist. “The police don’t like what we do. They have seized a flimsy excuse to shut us down, and are trying to silence criticism of the police, and support for political dissent”
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Notes for the Editor:
i. The use of the domain name www.fitwatch.org.uk has been suspended following a request to the web hosting company, Just Host, from the Metropolitan police. The Met claimed the site was being used for ‘criminal activities’ following comments made on the blog following the student demo at Millbank. The police stated that the blog was being used in an ‘attempt to pervert the cause of justice’.
ii. Fitwatch published an article on Friday 12th November that contained advice to protesters who were fearful of being identified by press photography, cctv or FIT. That advice has been copied widely around the internet, indicating the support that FITwatch has received on this issue. A copy of the post can be found at http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2010/11/468002.html?c=on#comments
iii. FITwatch contributed to a major story on the police use of ‘protester databases’ in the Financial Times on 17th October 2009.
iv. FITwatch was also in the news in July when the Evening Standard reported on a court victory by three Fitwatch supporters who had successfully challenged the right of police to place attendees at an open public meeting under surveillance. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23860752-protesters-rights-were-violated-by-met-surveillance.do
v. A number of FITwatch activists are currently taking legal action against the police for assault and unlawful arrest
vi. A number of newspapers including the Mail and Independent carried the story of ‘anti-police’ website giving advice. The Independent stated:
“Activist websites have published step-by-step instructions to those who fear they may be identified and arrested in the aftermath of the violence. One anti-police site told participants to destroy potential evidence, including clothing and any distinctive jewellery worn. A contributor urged demonstrators not to panic or give themselves up as a result of the flood of media coverage.”
vii. The last post to the site before suspension was highly critical of the way the police have been capitalising on the aftermath of the protests to defend their own budgets and justify repression of protesters.