Stephen Murney was cleared of outstanding ‘terrorism’ charges this afternoon amid strong criticism of the system of internment by remand being operated by the PSNI police and Crown prosecutors against republicans in the north of Ireland.
The 30-year-old Newry man is a local spokesperson for the socialist republican political party eirigi. He was arrested at the start of December 2012 by detectives investigating what they described as ‘dissident republican terrorist activity’ in the Newry area.
He was subsequently charged with the collection and distribution of photographs of the PSNI engaged in acts of harassment and intimidation of the local nationalist community. The photographs were described as ‘information likely to be of use to terrorists’.
Other charges of “possessing items for use in terrorism” were dismissed late last year. The charges were thrown out when the items in question, taken from his house in a PSNI raid two years ago, were found to be an old band uniform and toy guns belonging to Mr Murney’s son.
Mr Murney pointed out during his trial that the photographs were taken by him in his capacity as Eirigi PRO in order to record, document and publicise PSNI abuses.
Speaking to the Newry Times today following his acquittal and release, he said, “My imprisonment for the past 14 months was as a direct result of my political views and my membership of eirigi - an open and legitimate political party.
“Those charges, of which I have been found to be innocent, were brought against me by the PSNI who objected to fact that I recorded, documented and publicised PSNI personnel abusing the human and civil rights of citizens in the Newry area.
“Even though it was clear from the very outset that these charges were completely without substance, both the PSNI and prosecution service have persisted with a legalised charade which resulted in my imprisonment from December 2012. There is no other way of describing that charade except as ‘internment by remand’.
Murney vowed to continue his role as PRO. “I intend to continue with my activism on behalf of eirigi,” he added.
eirigi’s general secretary, Breandan Mac Cionnaith, who attended the trial, said, “From the outset we have said that the charges against our party comrade were nothing more than a spurious means to remove a committed and dedicated political activist from his family and his community.
“In short, Stephen’s imprisonment has been tantamount to ‘internment by remand’. Stephen’s case also highlights, yet again, the false claims made by constitutional nationalist parties in the Six Counties. This case clearly epitomises the reality of modern political policing.
He continued, “Had the PSNI and prosecution service been successful in their action against Stephen, it is very evident that this case would have had profound implications in relation to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Article 10 states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
“That right includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by state authorities. Stephen’s arrest and imprisonment was a blatant but crude attempt at political censorship and the open suppression of legitimately-held political opinions in direct contravention of those Article 10 rights.
“In that regard, this case is strongly reminiscent of the type of charges brought by RUC against political activists and others under the old and internationally discredited Special Powers Act.
Mac Cionnaith added, “Had the PSNI and prosecution service succeeded in this case, I have no doubt that it would have led to the arrests of other political activists and to possible gagging orders on political publications as a first step towards an outright ban on eirigi as a political party.”