Galloway calls for inquiry over Gaza convoy arrests
George Galloway has vowed to push for an inquiry into the arrests of nine campaigners involved with the aid convoy of 110 vehicles to Gaza called the “Viva Palestina”.
The arrests have been put in doubt following the arrests on terrorist charges.
The convoy was stopped by police on the M65 motorway on Friday 13 February, which also led to the seizure of vehicles and cargo under anti-terrorism laws.
Galloway said: “The arrests were clearly deliberately timed for the eve of the departure of the convoy. Photographs of the high-profile snatch on the M65 were immediately fed to the press to maximise the newsworthiness of the smear that was being perpetrated on the convoy.”
The vehicles traveling from the north of England were en route to join the rest of the convoy, which set off the following day from London’s Hyde Park on their way to Gaza carrying £1 million in humanitarian aid.
The main convey has continued its journey, and is currently travelling through Morocco.
Of the nine arrested by Lancashire police, six were released without charge the following day; three others were detained until Wednesday afternoon when they were also released without charge.
During this time house searches were carried out in Burnley and cargo and vehicles seized were also searched.
Police investigations apparently also included a strip search of both an arrested man and his wife at their home in Burnely.
Reports suggest donations to the aid effort have fallen by 80 per cent since the arrests. Accordingly, Mr Galloway has said he will be writing to the Chief Constable in Lancashire and is “seeking compensation for the real financial and public relations damage [the campaign] has suffered as a result.”
Concerns have also been raised surrounding the damaging effects of the arrests around police relations with Asian communities in Britain.
The Viva Palestina campaign has particularly strong support amongst young Muslims in the north of England, where the men arrested live.
Mr Galloway has lent his voice to the angry reaction of the community, saying: “The timing of the operation is seen locally as an attempt to smear and intimidate the Muslim community and I must say they seem to be right.”
Lancashire police have said that they provided financial assistance to the six men first released so that they could catch up with the convoy.
In addition, a Lancashire Constabulary spokeswoman said the search officers were “working as quickly as they can to ensure that the parcels can be released and continue on to their destination”.
In an open letter, the force added: “Investigations of this kind are very difficult and complex and we appreciate the sensitivities that surround them for all concerned.”
The convoy of 110 vehicles is carrying aid, toys and medical supplies for Gaza’s civilian population. The vehicles, including 18 ambulances, a fire engine, a boat and two buses has the support of high-profile political figures, including former MP Tony Benn.
The convoy’s route has so far included stop for civic reception in Bordeaux, a rally in San Sebastian and a rock concert in Madrid.
Organisers hope to reach Cairo by 6 March before crossing into Gaza via its border with Egypt.