In some countries an interest in ideas, and history, even quite recent history, can get you arbitrarily arrested. It can happen even if you are an academic whose research is being paid for by the government of the country.
On Tuesday they [the police] read me a statement confirming it was an illegal document which shouldn’t be used for research purposes. To this day no one has ever clarified that point. They released me. I was shaking violently, I fell against the wall, then on the floor and I just cried.
What sort of place has ‘illegal documents’? And how would you get one? In this case the document obtained by the masters student in question was published by the US government, and simply downloaded from an official website.
- China? Russia?
In the country concerned, the term ‘illegal document’ does not actually appear in any legislation. It is not, in theory, illegal merely to possess any document there – except for some unusually broad and harsh laws about indecent images. What sort of place is it that the police make up the law as they go along, and threaten academics for having the intention to read about the subject they are studying?
- Saudi Arabia? Egypt? No. The country concerned is the United Kingdom; the place Nottingham, in England. Read a report here. There is more in the printed version of the paper, including these chilling words from Nottinghamshire police:
We deliberately kept it low-key and have never sought to raise the profile of these two individuals or of this case.
We are supposed to be grateful that an unofficial police PR machine did not immediately set out to blacken the detainees’ names by making a fuss about their arrest, nor misrepresent what happened during it, nor spin tales of vast plots by releasing snippets of speculation to selected credulous and sensational media as if they represented evidence (there’s example of the latter today). I am not.
Here are the two sides of the coin. Officialdom ought not to be able to circulate confidential information about individuals for its own convenience, and it should be an obligation of police, not a voluntary virtue, to protect privacy. And if Britain is ever to be a free country again (and I am fully aware that it is quasi-free, not China or Russia, let alone Cuba or Saudi) then possessing and communicating general information by private individuals should not be a crime, nor – which is worse – treated as a crime.