Letter: ‘The suppression of dissent in Hackney is an alarming pattern’

A protest against children’s centres this month. Photograph: Suzanne Trotter

On Wednesday 28 February, for the first time in our memories, Hackney Council blocked residents from entering the gallery of our Town Hall and observing the council meeting. We see this as part of an alarming pattern whereby our council is suppressing dissent.

We write as members of two local groups who have experienced this suppression. We are campaigning for changes to council policies, against their cuts to children’s centres and for them to stop investing in Israel’s human rights abuses.

Both of our campaigns have had deputations blocked.

The Save Our Children’s Centres campaign was told that last week’s council meeting was not relevant. But we were unable to speak at the relevant cabinet meeting because the council published their proposals on the children’s centre closures too late for us to be able to bring a deputation, breaching their own constitution. Mayor Woodley also has not allowed a full council vote on the decision, so councillors cannot represent their residents’ views on the devastating cuts to these vital services.

A recent Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration. Photograph: Noora Mykkanen

Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign submitted a deputation last June. It calls on the council to end its investments in companies that provide the funding, weapons and other equipment that Israel is using to occupy and ethnically cleanse Palestine. This deputation has been ‘postponed’ indefinitely, so that even nine months on we still do not know whether we will ever be able to make our case to councillors.

The suppression of protest coupled with the refusal to listen to citizens at council meetings is alarming in a democratic society.

The citizens who attempted to observe the council meeting on Wednesday were subjected to full-body security checks along with having their bags searched. Despite these rigorous checks, Hackney residents were then directed not to the council chamber but to a separate room to watch the meeting on two screens. When asked why we were barred, we were told this was done in the name of safety.

Safety of councillors is important, but we are concerned that safety is being used to stop us as residents from objecting to what our councillors are doing, and especially to deflect from the defunding of local services and the funding of the ongoing genocide in Palestine through its pension fund.

Natalie Aguilera – spokesperson for the Save Our Children’s Centres campaign

Annie Wells, Leelou Gordon-Fox, Heather Mendick, Pat Quigley, Sally Skaife and Suj Ahmed – Palestine campaigners