Naming The Dead - A Serious Crime
A book by Maya Anne Evans (and Milan Rai)
Chapter 1: Arrested
- 25 October 2005
A third of the way down Whitehall, Mil suddenly
emerges from the crowd ahead of us, looks me in the eye, and says
calmly: ‘The police came over and spoke to me just now.
We will definitely be arrested if we go ahead. They said it is
“zero tolerance”.’ I’m shocked. I’ve
been hoping we won’t be arrested. Until now, I thought it
was a 60 per cent chance that we’d be arrested—just
for reading the names of people who’d died in the Iraq War.
The tourists pass around us on the pavement,
wandering down from Trafalgar Square towards the Houses of Parliament.
Mil asks: ‘Do you really want to do
this? You can change your mind right now.’ For a moment,
it flashes through my mind that I can wriggle out of this, I don’t
have to go through with it. I’ve never been arrested before
(I was detained once for a few hours in Belgium). I hate personal
confrontations of any kind, and the idea of a face-to-face conflict
with the ultimate authority figure, a police officer, is really
uncomfortable. Do I really want to be arrested and prosecuted,
and end up with a criminal record, and with a £1,000 fine?
For half a second, I don’t want to go any further.
I haven’t been entirely focused until
now. We’d met earlier on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields,
on the corner of Trafalgar Square. It was overcast and there was
a light drizzle. I’d arrived late, feeling flustered, and
anxious about the possibility of being arrested. My friend Adesina,
who I’ve known from school, had come along to support me.
After we turned up, Mil had gone on ahead to meet our friend Cedric
Knight, one of our legal observers. After handing over my phone
and other personal items to Gabriel Carlyle, another observer,
I’d gone looking for Mil, carrying our large cardboard signs,
still very worried.
After that flash of doubt and fear, I felt
myself becoming hyper-aware. Everything was brighter and louder.
I was suddenly very calm. I said to Mil, and to myself, ‘I’m
ready to do this’. I could feel myself putting on this façade
of being a confident, strong person who knew what she was doing.
I had to put my weaknesses and my personal feelings away. There
was something important I had to do, and I needed to be very focused.
I’d mentally prepared myself for this
the day before, and, after that half-second of wanting to run
away, I felt ready for everything that was about to happen. It
was very important to me to carry out this remembrance ceremony,
and to remind people about the tragedy of the war in Iraq, and
all the people who have died there.
Our protest was part of an international
ceremony of remembrance we’d helped to initiate, called
‘100,000 Rings for the people of Iraq’. We were helping
to mark the first anniversary of the publication of a landmark
paper in The Lancet, the world’s most respected medical
journal. This was explained on the four-foot-high cardboard signs
we were carrying towards Downing Street. One said:
‘100,000 Rings for Iraq. A year
ago, a study in the medical journal The Lancet estimated that
100,000 Iraqis had died of war-related causes since the invasion
The other said:
‘Remembering the 100,000 Iraqis
and 96 British soldiers who have died in this war. An international
ceremony of remembrance and resistance.’
(Unfortunately, a British soldier had died
since the sign had been made a few days earlier, making it incorrect.)
Our event was one of dozens being held around the US and Western
Europe. The US group Voices for Creative Non-Violence (VCNV) aimed
to inspire 100 communities to each ring a bell 1,000 times, to
mark the death toll estimated by the Lancet team. VNCV had asked
‘Justice Not Vengeance’ (JNV), the small British peace
group Mil and I co-ordinate, to be co-initiators of 100,000 Rings.
Mil (Milan Rai) and I decided to carry out
our 1,000 minute ceremony in four parts. During each part, we
would ring a bell once a minute. After each ring we would read
the name of an Iraqi civilian who had died during the invasion
or occupation, and the name of a British soldier who had died
in the war. The first ceremony was held in Brighton in a peace
park, and the second ceremony was held in North London, at the
military base in Northwood, Herts. In Brighton, we’d been
on our own. At Northwood, we’d been joined by two Muslim
friends: Sonia, the convenor of ‘Children Against War’,
and her mother Saeeda.
I don’t remember actually walking down
the rest of Whitehall. I just remember getting to the crowd barriers
and attaching our cardboard signs, facing Downing Street. The
white Cenotaph, which remembers all the British soldiers who have
died in war, was to our left. To our right was the new black memorial
to the Women of World War II. Behind us was the Ministry of Defence,
and directly in front of us were the gates of Downing Street.
I’d given my Tibetan bell to Adesina for safekeeping, as
we thought we wouldn’t get a chance to use it, and we didn’t
want it to be confiscated by the police for nothing. We were just
going to read the names of the dead.
I took the list of British soldiers, while
Mil took the much longer list of Iraqi civilians who had died
in the conflict. As we got ready to read the names, the police
spilled across the road. I was approached by a stocky, grim police
officer who I now know to be Police Constable Paul McInally. He
was unsympathetic. Mil and I were warned that we were breaching
the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act by holding an unauthorized
demonstration. We were each given a map of the ‘restricted
area’ around Parliament where unauthorized demonstrations
are not permitted. Mil asked them whether they were aware that
100,000 people had died in Iraq because of the war. The police
gave us five minutes to leave.
I said very little to the police. I concentrated
on reading out the names of the British dead. I read each soldier’s
name, his rank, and his age. Meanwhile, Mil was reading out the
names of Iraqi civilians who’ve died violently as a result
of the invasion and occupation.
Whenever you read out the list of names,
a shiver goes through you, and you feel sad for the people who’ve
died. You feel so sad that they have lost their lives in such
an unnecessary war. The list of Iraqi civilian names was published
by Iraq Body Count, which keeps track of all reported violent
deaths in Iraq. Their list contains information about people’s
occupations, where they died, and the manner of their death. Previously,
we’d confronted all this heart-breaking information for
four hours at a time. I’d felt close to the people whose
passing we were acknowledging.
Somehow, now, reading the names in the presence
of the police made the whole experience much more intense. And
I felt almost as if the police were being affected by the reading
more than I was. I had to be disciplined and focused, and to remain
polite and calm at all times. How I behaved would reflect on our
While we were reading the names, and waiting
for the police to arrest us, I saw my friend Adesina directly
outside Downing Street, pointing a video camera towards us. She
was approached by, and then surrounded by, a group of police officers.
I felt really bad because I had asked her to video our event,
and now it had led to her being harassed by the police. I could
see from her hand gestures and body language that it was quite
a difficult experience for her, and I felt really torn. Then I
saw them starting to search her bag—under section 44 of
the Terrorism Act 2000, I later discovered. Part of me wanted
to dash across the road to support her. The other part of me realized
that I’d probably just make her problems even worse.
Despite the fact that we knew we were about
to be arrested at any moment, I was more concerned about Adesina
than about myself. I’d had time to prepare myself mentally
for the experience, and I knew what the process ahead was like.
Adesina hadn’t had any preparation at all, and she didn’t
have any idea what could happen to her.
Slowly, however, the situation seemed to
I still felt angry and powerless. Our friend
Cedric, who is a tall blond Englishman, was also taking pictures—on
our side of the road—and he wasn’t being harassed
at all. A professional photographer, Molly Cooper, had arrived
and she was also being allowed to photograph us freely. I felt
as though the police were going for the easy target, a lone African
Muslim woman wearing a headscarf.
Finally, after a quarter of an hour, the
police arrested us. Mil was the first to be led into an unmarked
police van. I should explain that at this point Mil’s arrest
seemed to everyone involved much more serious than mine. I was
just another person being arrested for ‘participating’
in an unauthorized demonstration under the Serious Organized Crime
and Police Act (SOCPA). People had been getting arrested for this
since 1 August 2005, when SOCPA came into force. But Mil was the
first person to be arrested for ‘organizing’ an unauthorized
demonstration. He had notified the police about our demonstration,
but he’d refused to ask for permission to hold it. He therefore
faced a much higher maximum penalty than me, possibly months in
So on 25 October, it was Mil’s arrest
which we all thought might possibly get some media attention.
That’s why, for example, the short video
made of our arrest by Rikki, an Indymedia activist, focuses almost
entirely on Mil.
When I decided to take part in the demonstration
and risk arrest, no one—least of all me—imagined that
the end result could be mainstream media attention. I thought
it was possible I might be interviewed once or maybe twice as
a result, perhaps for the Hastings Observer. I thought maybe Peace
News would feature it. (Peace News did cover the story—I
wrote the article!)
From what I’d seen, most of the time
when people carry out nonviolent civil disobedience, it isn’t
reported at all in the national newspapers. If it is mentioned,
it’s a small item in the ‘news in brief’ column
buried inside the paper. That suited me fine. It may seem funny
now, with the way things turned out, but I didn’t want the
pressure of being in the spotlight. I hate public speaking. Even
now, after all media work I’ve done in the last year, I
avoid public speaking. The other day I was invited to speak at
a public meeting alongside an MP, in a hall that seats 100 people.
I felt physically sick at the prospect.
When I was arrested by PC McInally, I still
felt strangely calm and focused. I know that being arrested for
the first time can be an emotional experience for a lot of people,
but after all the preparation I’d been through, and my moment
of clarity earlier, it all just felt like a very natural progression.
The most important thing was that I just could not believe that
what we were doing was wrong.
I didn’t see how reading the names
of the dead without the permission of the police could be wrong—morally
or legally. I did feel resentful towards the authorities for making
a law that meant we could be arrested for carrying out a peaceful
protest of remembering the dead, and I felt more resentful towards
the police officers for allowing themselves to go along with this
law, but overall I felt calm.
As we pulled away from the curb, I saw Adesina
leaving the scene, probably on her way to the V&A Museum.
I could relax about her, but what about myself? How would I cope
with being in the hands of the police?