This morning (February 21) in Newry court-house, éirígí activist Stephen Murney faced additional charges following his removal from Maghaberry prison by the PSNI yesterday and his subsequent detention at Antrim interrogation centre. Half an hour before the actual hearing, the court-room had been filled to capacity by Stephen’s family, friends and party comrades.
These latest charges directly relate to other charges against Stephen and demonstrate an attempt by the PSNI and Six County prosecution service to bolster what is widely recognised as an already weak case solely initiated as blatant and crude attempt at political censorship.
The new charges included one relating to a single photograph which Stephen has already been charged with possessing. On the basis, that having taken a photograph with which he had previously been charged with possessing last year, the prosecution now accused Stephen of “collecting information which may be of use to terrorists and possession of articles which may be of use to terrorists”.
Additionally, Stephen was also charged with “aiding and abetting in criminal damage to property owned by persons unknown”.
To add to the sense of a dramatically imagined threat posed to the state by Stephen, and no doubt influence those press reporters in the court-room, upwards of 30 boiler-suited and fully-armed members of the PSNI flooded into the court-house just before the hearing, taking up positions both inside and outside the actual court-room itself. More stood guard on the street outside.
The state prosecution played up to this sense of dramatic and illusionary threat. The court was told that Stephen was “a member of an Ireland-wide organisation with the capacity to facilitate safe passage out of the jurisdiction”. The various photographs found on his computer seized during the PSNI raid on his home last November presented “an increased and severe threat to the PSNI”. Photographs had been found, the court was informed, that were posted onto Facebook.
Of course, the prosecution never referred to the fact that it had previously conceded in December last that the photographs had been taken openly and were of PSNI policing operations at legitimate public protests.
No mention was made by the prosecution to the fact that the Ireland-wide organisation to which Stephen belongs is an open legitimate political party.
Similarly, the prosecution made no mention of the fact that the charge of “aiding and abetting in criminal damage” related simply to éirígí party stencils found at Stephen’s home. Nor was any reference made to the fact that the prosecution had ridiculously claimed at a previous hearing that these stencils were items which “might be of use to terrorists”.
While Stephen’s legal representative attempted to refute the prosecution’s broad assertions, nevertheless the magistrate dutifully agreed to the prosecution demand that Stephen be held in custody on remand and denied him bail.
Tonight, Stephen Murney is back in his prison cell.
His family, friends and party colleagues are determined to secure his release and to expose the corrupt and unjust nature of the Six County state.
Over the coming weeks, there will be more protests and more pickets to highlight Stephen’s unjust detention.
The PSNI have chosen to bring these various charges against Stephen as a test-case, which if successful, will open the flood-gates for similar charges to be pressed against scores, if not hundreds, of political activists right across the Six Counties.
The wider implications of such a scenario are immense.
That is why this case must be defeated.