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Michelle Thomas

Published January 1st, 2005 | by Michelle Thomas

Taking Liberties Review

Classification: 12A Director: Chris Atkins Rating: 4.5/5

What a documentastic few weeks it’s been. With Sicko and Blue Blood and In Prison All My Life and Sigur Ros’s feature Heima, documentaries are back and thriving after briefly going out of fashion. Taking Liberties is a political, agit-prop documentary feature very much in the style of Michael Moore, looking at the lovely Labour party and how they have used the threat of terror to systematically dismantle the civil liberties enshrined in European Law.

It opens with an ironic ‘green and pleasant land’ intro, Land Of Hope And Glory swelling on the soundtrack before setting out the basic freedoms that we have enjoyed since the Second World War ended. These include: the Right to Protest, the Right to Freedom of Speech, the Right to Privacy, the Right not to be detained without charge, Innocent Until Proven Guilty, Prohibition From Torture. Designed to ensure that the rise of fascism that tore Europe apart and destroyed the lives of millions could never happen again. In a civilised world, the state would fear and serve the people, and not the other way around.

We experienced our own 9:11 on July 7, 2005, and hear from Rachel North, survivor, campaigner, generally fab woman and pole dancing teacher. As North and others point out, the government’s reaction was out of proportion to the attacks; Londoners were back at work the next day. Those who protested against the Iraq War on the grounds that it would make us a target for terrorists – hands up if you went on that march, it was a good one – were ignored by Bush’s poodle in Downing Street, but the results, rather than teaching him a lesson, seemed to have increased his stubborn refusal to take public opinion into account. So now people aren’t allowed to protest. Maya Evans and Milan Rai were arrested for reading the names of dead Iraqui civilians and British soldiers out at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. A stallholder is arrested for selling Bollocks to Blair t-shirts, and two sisters are held for 36 hours for taking part in a peaceful demonstration, while others find their coaches turned back, taken home by police escort. And Walter Wolfgang, pensioner and Labour Party member, is famously arrested under the Terrorism Act after shouting ‘nonsense’ at Jack Straw and being bundled out of the theatre by burly security guards.

Anyone who saw the Elijah Wood film Green Street will have picked up on one fact; Britain has more CCTV cameras than any other country in the world and there are more every day. ID cards are next and these are truly terrifying. How, exactly, will ID cards stop terrorists? They are much more likely to prevent you from getting that dream job because some bored temp has entered the wrong code on your file and now you are identified as an alcoholic or an axe murderer. Relying on this bureaucracy to handle a vast and complicated database is asking for trouble.

Of course, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. This is the weakest and most annoying counter argument. Its quite clear that we have everything to fear from a government that has abolished Habeus Corpus, part of our legal system since Magna Carta. That imprisons and detains people without trial. That extradites British citizens to other countries without asking those countries to produce evidence or any sort of case, and condones extraordinary rendition to regimes where terror is practiced. A factory in this country that was built to make slave collars now makes shackles for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

This is a shocking, extraordinary film, a powerful wake up call to a nation sleepwalking its way to oppression.


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