NEWS - Archive December 2013

Headlines 27 December, 2013

Racism charges triggered debate (Norway)

A commentary in a Swedish newspaper sparked widespread public discussion about “everyday racism” in Norway this past autumn. But discrimination, in one of the world’s most egalitarian countries, has a long history and new immigrants have been speaking up about their own experiences.

27/12/2013- The racism debate took off after Swedish columnist Ehsan Fadakar accused Norwegians, in a provocative piece published in Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in November, of being both selfish and voting in a racist government. He described the Progress Party (Frp), which won government power for the first time in the September election, as “the mass-murderer’s favourite gang,” referring to convicted terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s earlier membership in Frp until he quit in frustration over politics he considered far too moderate.

Fadakar nonetheless claimed that Frp, which began mostly as a tax revolt party but later faced image problems over its anti-immigration rhetoric, used “Breivik-style rhetoric” that in Sweden would only come from the far-right party Sweden Democrats. His comments came not long after an incident during the popular Scandinavian talk show Skavlan, when the host Fredrik Skavlan was interviewing former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. A fellow guest on the program, Swedish comedian Özz Nûjens, accused Norway’s new government of wanting to “mass deport the Roma out of Norway.” “If that isn’t racism, then what is?” he asked.

Things got worse when NRK cut an ensuing exchange between Nûjens and Stoltenberg, setting off claims of censorship. Karin Olsson, culture editor for Swedish newspaper Expressen, suggested that Norwegians have distanced themselves so much from Brevik’s motives that it’s become hard for them to talk about any other racism than the extreme and violent kind. She wrote that in Norway there is a “more intentional, more populist racism, that can even seep into the government.” Many in Sweden share her view. In a recent survey conducted in Sweden by Aftenposten, 44 percent of those asked believe that Norwegians are more negative towards immigration than Swedes. “Norwegians are happy and open people, but the election result speaks for itself,” said one.

‘Everyday racism’
A simple tweet from a medical student of Somali original, living in Norway, then sparked a huge debate about “everyday racism” in the country. Warsan Ismail tweeted that when she was five, their neighbours set a pair of dogs after her mother. Under the hashtag #norskrasisme, she and many others tweeted similar anecdotes. Lubna Jaffery, a former Norwegian politician of Pakistani descent, tweeted how a woman once called her and her three-year-old daughter “disgusting” as they were getting off a bus. The Socialist Left Party (SV) politician Marcela Molina, who is Argentinian-born, told newspaper Aftenposten how she once rang up about a flat to rent, and gave her name. The landlord then said “we don’t rent out to the likes of you,” before hanging up. Her experience is backed up by by the Norwegian Centre Against Racism (Anti-rasistisk Senter). They posted two identical fictional ads on the Norwegian website, requesting a flat to rent. But in one ad, the couple had Norwegian-sounding names and in the other they had Middle-Eastern sounding names. The “Norwegian” ad got 200 responses, while the other one only got 115, Aftenposten reported.

‘Fear of foreigners’
The Equality and Anti-discrimination ombud (Likestillings-og-diskrimineringsombudet) has also come across ads that explicitly exclude “foreigners” or state that the tenant must be of Norwegian ethnicity. They say there is also a new trend to demand language fluency, written and oral, from tenants. This can be a way of hiding discrimination behind a “legitimate” excuse, particularly if the landlord decides to interpret fluency as speaking Norwegian without a foreign accent. The discrimination isn’t only racist, but may lie in a latent “fear of foreigners” that still exists despite studies showing that Norwegians have become more tolerant and less skeptical towards people different from themselves. One young British woman who called a prospective employer to inquire about a job listing she’d seen was told to “call back when you’ve learned Norwegian!” An American woman who got into a taxi was chided over her accented Norwegian, with the Norwegian driver complaining “oh no, another utlending (foreigner) in my car today!” And it wasn’t too many decades ago that Norwegians themselves from the northern part of the country faced severe discrimination in Oslo, as have the indigenous Sami people over the years.

‘Reverse’ racism
Iranian-born Florence Aryanik (20), who grew up in Norway, described the kind of “reverse” racism that she first experienced at the age of 15. “You would maybe expect it to be a Norweigan who said “you are not one of us,” she told newspaper Dagsavisen. “But for me it was totally the other way round.” A couple of boys from Iranian families asked her one day why she was hanging out with “the blondes,” at high school. ”You’re not one of them. You’re dark, you are one of us,” they told her. She is one of the leading figues in the campaign group Youth Against Racism (Ungdom mot rasisme) and recently cancelled a speech she’d planned to give at a commemoration of kristallnacht in Germany, where nazis attacked German Jews, after receiving a death threat on the phone. She has received more than 30 anonymous threats, by letter and phone, since March this year. “The main problem is that some think that women with minority backgrounds should not think much. Drop their head, make food, and just exist. I know of people who have it like that, but I don’t know them personally. It really hurts me to think of them,” she told Dagsavisen. She has to carry on, she says, because it would be worse to be forced into silence.

As well as facing up to alleged racism today, Norway is also investigating racism in its past. The Holocaust Center in Bygdøy, Oslo, is now researching the country’s treatment of Norwegian Roma during the Second World War. They know that some were going to be sent to work colonies in the country and managed to escape, others were refused entry to the country under new discriminatory legislation and were later sent to concentration camps. “It is a big knowledge gap in our collective memory,” Conservative Minister of local government Jan Tore Sanner told Dagsavisen.
© Views and News from Norway


Lithuanian lawmaker: Jews only want to take money

27/12/2013- Lithuania’s prime minister condemned a lawmaker for suggesting Jews are cheap and “are just looking to take from Lithuania.” “I judge this statement to be very negative and it doesn’t represent the party’s position,” Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said Dec. 23, according to the news site A spokesperson for Butkevicius’ Social Democratic Party of Lithuania said the party “does not tolerate any forms of anti-Semitism.” The prime minister was responding to a comment made earlier this week by fellow party member Bronius Bradauskas, who told the BNS news agency that, “Jews were just looking to take money.”

Bradauskas made the statement in connection to a government proposal to make extra pension payments to about 200 Lithuanian Righteous among the Nations, non-Jews recognized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem for having risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. “I do not see why the Lithuanian state should pay,” Bradauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian Parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance, told BNS. “It would be quite logical if we turned to Israel, and that it should pay. But no, the Jews do not want to pay, they are just looking to take from Lithuania.”

Lithuania had a Jewish population of 250,000 in 1939 but 95 percent of its Jews were murdered during the Holocaust by Nazi soldiers and Lithuanian collaborators. Today Lithuania has some 5,000 Jews, according to the European Jewish Congress.
© JTA News


Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi-hunter and the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) office in Jerusalem , has said that it is no surprise that the growth of neo-fascism in Croatia occurred after the country joined the EU, as the same thing happened in some other states.

25/12/2013- It is no surprise that this is happening in Croatia after its EU entry. The same happened in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia… That is a flame that burns and gives support to extreme nationalists across Europe, Zuroff underscored during a lecture at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. While they were still EU-aspirant countries, those states were forced to behave, Zuroff explained. And now, when neo-fascist tendencies are on the rise in them, Brussels is not saying a word, but is asleep, he warned. Zuroff also criticized the fact that no Croatian official reacted to the incident at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, when Croatia’s football player Josip Simunic took the microphone after the match and shouted the infamous Ustasha salute “For the Homeland!“. It is even more disconcerting that thousands of sports fans responded “Ready!”

Zuroff also noted that following their EU accession, some countries are trying to minimize their role in the Holocaust, referring to Lithuania, Estonia and Croatia. The Holocaust was an industrial slaughterhouse that has not repeated ever again in history and I hope it never will, the famous Nazi-hunter underlined. He noted that Nazi collaborators in Eastern Europe were actively involved in the realization of mass killings, while in other parts of Europe collaborators were not required to do that. The Germans first set priorities, deciding to focus on officers only, and only now, after the conviction of Ivan Demjanjuk, who was a guard at the infamous Sobibor death camp in German-occupied Poland during World War II, Germany is ready to bring those criminals to justice, he said. That is why we launched a campaign titled “Late, But Not Too Late”, so as to help German authorities to find as many people as possible and bring them to justice

There is no statute of limitations for the guilt, and old age should not protect criminals, Zuroff said. The battle does not end with the death of the last Nazi. We will continue to fight to ensure the accurate history and proper remembrance of the Holocaust, Zuroff concluded in the packed hall. Serbia got a relatively good grade in the SWC’s annual report, he added. The SWC director will talk with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic in Belgrade on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Zuroff visited the former death camp Staro Sajmiste in Belgrade and paid tribute to genocide victims.
© In Serbia


A Polish MP has expressed his support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and at the same time described the Ugandan population as “kind of wild people”.

24/12/2013- Stanislaw Pieta managed to display homophobia and racism in equal measure in remarks on Twitter. He tweeted on Sunday that the “kind of wild people” (Ugandans) realise that they shouldn’t “insult the laws of nature”. Mr Pieta also suggested that gay people in prison should be separated in order to prevent them from having sex. The MP has been criticised for his remarks on Twitter. He previously has linked homosexuality to necrophilia, zoofilia and paedophilia. Mr Pieta belongs to the far-right anti-gay Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość). Last Friday, the UK Government condemned the Ugandan Parliament for passing its Anti-Homosexuality Bill. MPs in Uganda passed legislation to toughen the punishment for same-sex sexual activity, including life imprisonment for all same-sex sexual behaviour – not just the current life tariff for anal intercourse. Campaigners are calling on Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni not to sign the bill into law.
© Pink News


Irregular migrantsare a resource,not a threat -President Abela inmessage for Christmas (Malta)

24/12/2013- In his last Christmas speech as President of Malta, Dr George Abela urged the Maltese to understand the achievements they made in the past year and learn from the mistakes committed. He said that the year that is about to end Malta saw a change of administration which showed political maturity in the transfer of power that ensued. The election campaign was free, civil and open to all those who wanted to participate. He said he remembers vividly the meeting he had soon after the election with the new Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his predecessor Lawrence Gonzi, both of whom showed a sense of responsibility and gave a clear sign to the people how power could move from one side to the other in a serene way.

The economic and financial situation continued to dominate the new over the past year, but Malta continued to do well in the circumstances. Our diversified economy continued to experience a modest growth and generate employment. Some sectors such as the financial, tourism and aircraft maintenance remained strong. This does not mean we can relax, and instead of debt and deficit, we should start thinking of saving money and not spend more than we earn. Instability in the region continued with the difficulties experienced by Libya and the civil war in Syria that entered the third year. This was affecting the whole region and heightened the immigration problem, a reality that will stay with use for years to come.

Dr Abela praised the government for the stand taken with Italy and Greece to demand concrete action from the European Union to cut down on the human tragedies that take place in Mediterranean waters. Malta cannot shoulder the burden of irregular migration on its own because we do not have the administrative capabilities to do so. But we should show respect to human dignity and start considering irregular migrants as a resource rather than a threat. The integration among cultures makes Malta’s identity richer in its multicultural nature. Dr Abela also spoke about the need to preserve the environment we live in. He said the family remained the backbone of our society as it brought about moral, emotional and economic stability. He urged the state to continue to build on the solid education system that we have,

While insisting that the values of marriage and the family remain intact, this should however not impinge on the civil rights of the social minorities. Dr Abela also spoke about social justice, saying that society had the duty to assist those with needs, especially families on the brink of poverty. He praised voluntary organisations for their sterling work, saying that during the presidency he had the honour to work with many people whose generosity and dedication towards others was immense.
© The Malta Independent


23/12/2013- Unidentified individuals used a pig’s head to desecrate a synagogue in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar. Representatives of the Jewish community of the city, which is located 600 miles west of Baku, Azerbaijan, found the pig’s head at the entrance to their synagogue on Dec. 20. They believe the perpetrators are also responsible for English-language graffiti on the building’s external wall, which read: “Happy Tu B’Shevat, Jewish Pigs.” Tu B´shevat, which will next occur on Jan 15, 2014, is a Jewish holiday which celebrates ecological awareness and the connection between man and the plant kingdom. Shneor Segal, a Chabad rabbi who used to work in Krasnodar and now serves as the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Baku, said the community has contacted police with the intention of filing criminal charges against the unidentified perpetrators. Last month, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of a synagogue being built in Sevastopol, a Ukrainian port city located 270 miles west of Krasnodar.
© JTA News


Italian 'Slave' posters pulled amid racism claims

24/12/2013- The US studio behind Golden Globe-nominated historical drama "12 Years a Slave," has asked the film's Italian distributors to withdraw posters which triggered an online storm over alleged racism. Lionsgate did not specify why it was asking for the publicity material to be pulled, but a source linked to the Italian distributors said they were in the process of removing "unauthorized" posters of the movie, tipped for glory in Hollywood's annual awards season. The Italian posters feature large pictures of Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, who have relatively small parts in the movie, but barely show black actor Chiwetel Ejifor, who plays the main role. Many online commentators pointed out that the posters simply used Pitt's and Fassbender's huge celebrity to sell the film. But others saw darker motives, and the film's makers responded apparently to limit any reputational damage.

"The '12 Years A Slave' theatrical posters featuring Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender that were recently released in Italy were unauthorized and were not approved by any of the producers or licensors of the film," said Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate subsidiary. "Summit Entertainment, acting as exclusive sales agent for the licensors, is investigating and taking immediate action to stop the distribution of any unauthorized posters and to have those posters currently in the marketplace recalled," it added in a statement emailed to AFP by a Lionsgate spokesman. The posters commissioned by Italian distributor BIM triggered a storm online, with some arguing they are racist in using photos of white stars to advertize a movie about a black character, who appears in almost every frame.

"REALLY? I don't remember Brad Pitt being the protagonist of the film or having such a pivotal role in the story to stay in the middle of the poster," said an Italy-based blogger on Tumblr called Carefree Black Girl. "I sure don?t know anything about marketing strategy to appeal audiences but isn?t this going to far?" the blogger added. Commenting on a Washington Post blog, Bfeely600 wrote: "I get that Brad Pitt is a recognizable star, yet I can't help but think once again that race plays a part." On Twitter, actor-director David Eng wrote: "The folks who made the Italian 12 YEARS A SLAVE posters may not actually be racist. "They just think all Italians are." "12 Years a Slave" came equal first with crime caper "American Hustle" in nominations announced earlier this month for the Golden Globes, with seven nods apiece. It also topped nominees for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, and appears a likely frontrunner for the Oscars, which climax Hollywood's annual awards season on March 2.


Italy: Nine sew lips together to demand release from migrant centre

23/12/2013- Nine illegal immigrants have stitched their lips together with thread in a protest to demand their release from what they allege are unbearable living conditions in a detention centre in Italy. Four Tunisians each made a single stitch to join their lips in the middle, acording to Filiberto Zaratti, a lawmaker who visited the protesters. Five Moroccans later imitated the gesture, according to the centre's manager, speaking on Italian television. The protest began in a holding centre near Rome. In his end-of-year press conference on Monday, Italian premier Enrico Letta pledged to overhaul conditions in Italy's overcrowded holding centres following an outcry over a recent video of male and female migrants being hosed down naked in the cold to disinfect them. Letta said the government would address issue and other aspects of Italy's immigration and citizenship laws when it outlines its 2014 priorities in January. The secretly filmed video emerged last week of naked detainees being sprayed in mixed company to treat scabies in an outdoor courtyard in winter at the reception centre on the southern island of Lampedusa, now the main arrival point for boat migrants to Europe.

The European Union and Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation and the EU has threatened to halt 30 million euros of aid to Italy over the video while Rome announced it was sacking the cooperative that managed the Lampedusa centre. Over 360 migrants drowned a kilometre from Lampedusa in a shipwreck in October, sparking earlier international outrage. A Moroccan-born lawmaker for Italy's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), Khalid Chaouki, said on Sunday he had barricaded himself the Lampedusa detention centre. "I have seen so much desperation on the migrants' faces. There is a huge amount of tension and people are on a knife-edge," Chaouki told Adnkronos. Migrants are supposed to be held for a maximum of 96 hours at the Lampedusa centre but there are people who have been there for three months or more, Chaouki said. The MP earlier said on Facebook he would stay in the centre until "legality is restored". "The conditions are so bad that they fail to respect the immigrants' basic human rights," he said.

Beginning week, the Red Cross will begin monitoring the activity of the Lampedusa centre, which can currently hold 250 people but often holds four or five times that number. Illegal immigrants can be held for up to 18 months in Italy's holding centres. A total of 40,000 people risking the dangerous sea crossing from northern Africa this year - almost four times as many as last year - amid an unrelenting surge in migration in the Mediterranean from conflict-wracked countries, mainly in the Middle East and Africa but also South Asia.
© Aki.


Islamophobia: Surge revealed in anti-Muslim hate crimes (UK)

Many forces reported a particular rise in anti-Islam hate crimes following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby

27/12/2013- Islamophobic hate crimes across Britain have risen dramatically this year, new figures have revealed. Hundreds of offences were perpetrated against the country's Muslim population in 2013, with the Metropolitan police alone - Britain's largest force - recording 500 Islamophobic crimes, compared with 336 incidents in 2012 and 318 in 2011. A large number of forces across the country reported a particular surge in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamic extremists in Woolwich, south-east London. In May, the month in which Fusilier Rigby was killed, Scotland Yard recorded 104 anti-Muslim hate crimes, followed by a further 108 in June. The figures were obtained by the Press Association which sent Freedom of Information requests to every police force in England and Wales.

However of the 43 forces, just 24 provided figures on the number of anti-Muslim crimes and incidents recorded - with some forces admitting they do not always record the faith of a religious hate crime victim. It is therefore likely that the actual numbers of incidents of hate crimes against Muslims perpetrated in 2013 was much higher. Tell Mama, a group which monitors anti-Muslim incidents, said it has dealt with some 840 cases since just April - with the number expected to rise to more than 1,000 by the end of March. This compared with 582 anti-Islam cases it dealt with from March 2012 to March 2013. Fiyaz Mujhal, director of Faith Matters, which runs the Tell Mama project, said reaction to the murder of Fusilier Rigby had caused the number of Islamophobic crimes to “significantly jump”.

“The far right groups, particularly the EDL (English Defence League) perniciously use the Internet and social media to promote vast amounts of online hate,” he added. Branding guidelines by the Crown Prosecution Service to monitor social media as “not fit for purpose”, Mr Mujhal said tougher sentencing was needed to tackle Islamophobic crime. “They raised the bar of prosecution significantly,” he said. “Now unless there is a direct threat to somebody on Twitter or Facebook, the CPS will not prosecute. The CPS is just plainly out of sync with reality. “We also need more robust sentencing. In one case, a pig's head was left outside a mosque and the perpetrator came away with a community sentence. When you target a mosque, you are targeting the whole community.”

Tell Mama also called for police forces to introduce a system which improves monitoring and recording of Islamophobic crimes, ensuring the faith of a religious hate crime victim is recorded. “There are three problems we come across,” Mr Mujhal said. “Firstly, there is a lack of understanding of the language of Islamophobia thrown at victims in any incidents. “Secondly, there is very little training on how to ask relevant questions to pull out anti-Muslim cases. “Thirdly, recording processes are not in line with each other. One force will allow an officer to flag an incident as anti-Muslim, another force will flag it as religious hate crime. There is no uniformity. “There must be guidelines for all forces so we can know the level of the problem.”

A CPS spokeswoman said that for online communications, only those that are “grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false” are prohibited in order to “preserve the right to free speech”. “Online communication can be offensive, shocking or in bad taste. However, as set out in CPS guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media, content has to be more than simply offensive to be contrary to the criminal law,” she said. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has previously said over five days after Fusilier Rigby was murdered 71 anti-Muslim incidents were reported to its national community tension team. Superintendent Paul Giannasi, Acpo's spokesman on hate crime, said: “The police service is committed to reducing the harm caused by hate crime and it is vital that we encourage more victims who suffer crimes to report them to the police or through third party reporting facilities such as Tell Mama.

“We would obviously want overall crime levels to reduce and to see fewer victims, but we welcome increases in reported hate crime, as long as they are a sign of increased confidence of victims to report. “We are working with local police forces, to help improve the way we respond to hate crime and to provide robust and transparent hate crime data.” A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “These are despicable crimes that devastate lives and communities. The courts already hand out tougher punishments where race or religion are found to be aggravating factors.” “The number of people receiving a custodial sentence for these appalling crimes is higher than ever before.”
© The Independent


Gay men call for equity following Alan Turing pardon (UK)

Following the official pardon for the Second World War codebreaker, other victims of the 1950s anti-gay witch hunts say they deserve similar treatment

27/12/2013- For Terry, the trauma of being arrested for the crime of being in love with another man is still profound. Some six decades after his entanglement in Britain’s 1950s anti-homosexual “witch hunt”, it remains an experience he would prefer others not to know about. Now aged 89, Terry (not his real name) was a young man when he was arrested in central London following an admission from his then boyfriend that the pair were in a consensual, private – but under the law of the time, criminal – sexual relationship. But unlike Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and wartime code breaker, neither Terry nor an estimated 50,000 other men who were convicted under a Victorian law of indulging in “gross indecency with an other male person” have received a royal pardon for being gay. Terry, a retired civil servant, said: “It was by far the most terrifying experience of my life. The police came to my flat in the early morning. I think they were hoping to find me and my boyfriend in bed together but he happened to be out of town that week. He was arrested later.

“They turned the place upside down and I remember one of the constables saying to his colleague that they’d got ‘another effing queer’. I was given a suspended sentence on the basis of my boyfriend’s statement. They were scary times. A real witch hunt was going on. Even now it’s pretty hard to talk about it – I told no one for years and lots of people still don’t know. “I think it’s good that Turing has been pardoned. He was a great man and cruelly treated. But if he should have his ‘crime’ officially overturned, then the same should apply to the rest of us. We might not all be of his calibre, but we also did nothing wrong.” Terry is not alone in holding such views. Gay rights activists and politicians yesterday signalled their intent to now expand the campaign which led to the posthumous pardon for Turing, to obtain the same consideration for other gay or bisexual men prosecuted for offences that would have been perfectly legal had their partners been women. Peter Tatchell, the veteran human rights campaigner, has written to David Cameron asking for the pardon to be extended to others and seeking a fresh inquiry into the death of Turing, who may have been on a Security Service watchlist when he died in an apparent suicide in 1954.

Mr Tatchell said: “Singling out Turing for a royal pardon just because he was a great scientist and very famous is wrong in principle. The law should be applied equally, without fear or favour. Selective redress is a bad way to remedy a historic injustice. “At least 50,000 other men were convicted under the same ‘gross indecency’ law from the time it was first legislated. They have never been offered a pardon but deserve one, equally as much as Turing.” The 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, which introduced the notorious Section 11 offence of two men committing “gross indecency”, was used to prosecute Oscar Wilde in 1895. But the bulk of prosecutions took place after the 1930s and sharply accelerated during the post-war period as homosexuals became increasingly equated by the Establishment with depravity and betrayal. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who was made Home Secretary in 1951, infamously instructed the forces of law and order to conduct a “new drive against male vice” that would “rid England of this plague”. Ironically, he also ordered the report by Lord Wolfenden which ultimately recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1957, apparently unaware that the peer had a gay son.

Between 1945 and 1955, the number of prosecutions in England and Wales each year for homosexual acts more than tripled from 800 to 2,500, resulting in about 1,000 custodial sentences a year. The era has been likened to America’s McCarthyite pursuit of suspected Communists, with undercover police officers deployed to pubs and public lavatories as “agents provocateur”, with the intention of enticing gay men into illegal approaches for sex. A gay slang or “polari” developed, in part to defeat police surveillance, while newspapers openly ran articles with headlines such as a “How to spot a possible homo”. The result was an atmosphere of paranoia and prejudice in which homosexuals were routinely prosecuted after reporting crimes against themselves – as happened with Alan Turing, who had complained of a theft when he was prosecuted in 1952 – and blackmail was common.

One Cardiff-based solicitor recalled how cheques paying the fees of criminal clients suddenly started coming from a single bank account. Further investigation found that the money was being paid by a homosexual vicar who was being blackmailed by gangsters. The effect of police investigations could be devastating. When detectives carried out one of numerous provincial purges in the Worcestershire town of Evesham in 1956, they prosecuted 11 men aged from 17 to 81. One of the men subsequently gassed himself, another threw himself in front of a train, leaving a widow and children, and the oldest suffered a stroke. As Terry put it: “It was a very anxious, furtive time. We were young men with libidos and yet everything you did to express those urges carried with it the threat or promise of personal ruin. I had a friend who went to prison and he never spoke of it. Silence was his only way of coping.” It was one of the most high-profile prosecutions of the era – that of the young peer Lord Montagu in 1954, after he was implicated in a gay circle by two RAF men – which sped reform after public opinion in the wake of his conviction began to turn against such heavy-handed policing.

Decriminalisation in 1967 and the subsequent long march to equality which saw homosexuality remaining an offence in the armed forces until 1994 and the equalisation of the age of consent taking until 2001, has produced a changed landscape for Britain’s gay community. But the stain of criminality remains for thousands of gay men – who also won a right last year to have any criminal record for gross indecency removed, as long as it no longer constituted an offence under current law. Lord Sharkey, the Liberal Democrat peer who co-sponsored the bill calling for Turing’s pardon, said the formal disregarding of all Section 11 convictions would be the “proper and fitting and final end to the Turing story”. But that is likely to be another long fight. The Ministry of Justice said last night that the pardon of Turing did not signal a change to the Government’s policy of granting pardons only in “exceptional” cases. It said no general review of convictions for homosexuality is being considered.
© The Independent


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