Year 2000 No. 124, August 1, 2000

Lords Logjam:

The Crisis in the Old Arrangements

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Lords Logjam:
The Crisis in the Old Arrangements

News In Brief
East Kent Campaigners Protest against Health Minister
Dudley Hospital Workers Strike

Turkish Authorities Attack Prisoners in Bergama

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Lords Logjam:

The Crisis in the Old Arrangements

It is said that the legislative programme in the House of Lords is in such disarray that the government may have to postpone the Queen’s Speech until December.

If the Queen’s Speech were to be delayed, then the time available for Bills in the next parliamentary session would be severely curtailed. It has already been decided that peers will return to Westminster a month earlier than MPs to try to complete the remaining business during the period before the next session of parliament begins. The House of Lords returns on September 27 after the Summer Recess which began for both Houses after the completion of business on July 28. One of their first debates will be on the second reading of the second version of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, which deals with to right to trial by jury in certain cases. The Lords had already thrown out the first version of the Bill. If Bills do not complete all their stages, they die on the day that Parliament is prorogued ahead of the new session and the State Opening of Parliament. The Queen’s Speech opening the new parliamentary session normally takes place in early or mid-November. Other Bills which are considered vulnerable are the Freedom of Information Bill and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, introduced ten Bills into the last session of parliament, which reflects the prevailing trend in society to criminalise the whole polity and turn political and societal issues into law and order questions.

That this logjam comes at the time when the reform of the House of Lords has been put on the agenda by the government is no coincidence. It reflects the crisis of the old arrangements – not just the archaic character of the political institutions but the way they are failing to operate, as an extension of this character, in accordance with the present needs of the ruling powers. "Constitutional reform" government-style is attempting to rectify this disharmony. But they are still having trouble with this type of "reform" in bringing about arrangements that suit their purpose of a workable system of "progressive governance".

Even more fundamental is that at root, totally new arrangements are required which are consistent with popular democracy, which is to say, with a political system in which the people are the sovereign power. This is the need of the times, and requires a modern constitution emerging from the struggles of the people for that sovereignty.

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News In Brief

East Kent Campaigners Protest against Health Minister

Health campaigners in the East Kent area demonstrated last Friday, July 28, when Health Minister John Denham visited Ashford.

The Minister was in the region to launch the NHS national plan for the South East. He met staff at the William Harvey Hospital after the launch at the Ashford International Hotel.

Members of CHEK (Concern for Health in East Kent) demonstrated to show their support for the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. A long and vigorous campaign has been fought against the cuts and downgrading in the K&C, which is still continuing despite the government’s decisions.

Dudley Hospital Workers Strike

Six hundred workers at three hospital sites are staging a 48-hour strike over the Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Trust’s arrangements. The Trust plans to transfer jobs to the private sector.

Picket lines are being set up today outside the hospitals at Russells Hall Hospital, Corbett Hospital, Stourbridge, and Dudley and Wordsley Hospital. A strikers and supporters rally is to take place at 12 noon at Brierley Civic Hall.

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Turkish Authorities Attack Prisoners in Bergama

The following press release was put out by the Campaign for Human Rights in Turkey on July 28. The Campaign was launched by the Liverpool Dockers’ Shop Stewards’ Delegation to Turkey, July 1996.

At Bergama Prison on 25-07-2000 the prison authorities started to conduct what they called a "search" of the prison, involving a heavy military and fire brigade presence, bulldozers and ambulances. All roads to the prison have been blocked. Gunfire has been heard and smoke has been seen rising from the building. The authorities are now holding a siege around the prison and are waiting for further attacks. According to Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk, "one of the prison cells has been burnt down and two others are now unusable. We cannot concede the prisoners' demands. Some of the damage was caused by prisoners and some by the security forces." The pretext for the authorities' attack was the alleged discovery of a prisoners' escape tunnel. It is not known to what extent the prisoners have suffered injury in the course of this "search".

A two hour negotiation has taken place between prison representatives and the authorities, including the Bergama Republic Attorney General. Although the prisoners have accepted the authorities' orders that a count be taken of the prisoners and that they be put ten to a cell, apparently no formal agreement has yet been reached. The prisoners are requesting that cell doors, while locked at night should be unlocked during the day.

Prisoners' relatives are waiting anxiously for news at the barricade outside the prison, while fearing another assault on the prisoners.

Background:

Attacks by the authorities on political prisoners are commonplace in Turkey. Other occasions when prisoners were either killed or injured in such attacks are: 21 September 1995 in Buca Prison; 4 January 1996 in Umranlye Prison; 24 September 1996 in Diyarbakir; 26 September 1999 in Ulucanlar Prison; 5 July 2000 in Burdur Prison. Successive governments have always targeted political prisoners. Most recently the government's aim has been to introduce isolation cell (F-type) prisons. The aim is to isolate prisoners so that they can more easily be subjected to systematic torture and intimidation (which can sometimes lead to deaths). Two months ago the Turkish Human Rights Association launched a nation-wide campaign against these prisons. This campaign has wide support from human rights associations, democratic organisations, trade unions, and some political parties.

Reactions to the events at Bergama Prison:

Political parties EMEP, ODP and SIP together with KESK (Public Workers Union), Genel-Is (General Workers Union) and the Human Rights Association held a press conference calling on the authorities to guarantee the lives of the prisoners and denouncing the attack as another step towards establishing F-type prisons. Several trade union branches called on the authorities to stop committing crimes against humanity. Yesterday the Istanbul Branch of the Human Rights Association held a press conference only to have it attacked by the police. 15 of those present were arrested, including the chairwoman Eren Keskin. Writers and intellectuals pledged themselves to hold a one-day hunger strike against F-type prisons. The Contemporary Lawyers Association denounced the authorities' attacks as deliberate provocation intended to stop agreement being reached with any of the prisoners' demands. Students from Istanbul, Marmara and Yildiz Universities yesterday took part in demonstrations in defence of the prisoners, then found themselves under attack by the police, with 50 students being arrested. Political prisoners from other prisons have also condemned the events at Bergama.

It is feared that unless there is sufficient opposition nationally and internationally, the Turkish authorities may initiate another bloody attack on the prisoners in order to threaten and intimidate them. This is what has happened in the past.

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