[Boycott - Israel Supporters]
Marks and Spencer in free speech storm
David Ottewell, Manchester News
17 July 2004
Bosses at Marks and Spencer in Manchester are planning to use controversial anti-social behaviour orders against protesters.
The flagship store is gathering evidence with a view to obtaining ASBOs against pro-Palestinian groups who have noisily targeted its Market Street branch for 3½ years.
The move has been criticised by civil liberty campaigners, who say it infringes people’s rights of free speech.
Marks and Spencer picket (this one in London)
6 May 2004, courtesy Alex Eisenstein, indymedia
City centre chiefs have confirmed that the company is discussing with police and council officials whether it can ask the courts to impose ASBOs on protesters if it can be proved they are causing fear, harassment or distress to staff or shoppers.
Anyone breaching an order can be jailed for up to five years. Only the police, council or a registered social landlord can apply.
Mike Rawlings, Manchester’s retail crime operations manager, said: “Marks and Spencer has been collating information and looking at trying to issue and enforce ASBOs.
“The situation is on-going. A lot of what is happening is a great nuisance to the company, but a lot of it is quite lawful. I don’t think that the company would be able to get an ASBO imposed just because someone was protesting against something. “The key phrasing in the orders is ‘alarm, distress and harassment’.”
The pickets, who have been operating since November 2000, involve a number of groups, including Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and the Iraq Solidarity Campaign.
FRFI, which has organised 16 M&S pickets around the country, claims the company supports Israel, which it blames for the current bloody stand-off with the Palestinians.
It says the Manchester picket has been targeted by “anti-protest” groups which have tried to destroy banners.
Police have confirmed they arrested a 33-year-old man on July 3 for allegedly ripping up posters.
Neither Marks & Spencer nor Manchester city council would comment on the situation.
Hussein al-Alak, chairman of the ISC in Manchester, said: “There is a feeling of persecution. It is unbelievable that one little protest is causing so much hoo-ha and so much scandal.”
Peter Rothery, a lawyer and member of the council’s Lib Dem opposition, said: “Anyone has a right to protest in a free society.
“It would be quite wrong to take an ASBO out in respect of people protesting a legitimate issue.”
ASBOs were introduced to make it easier for councils and police to curb anti-social behaviour, including racist abuse and neighbour nuisance.
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