Another Saturday

It was getting close to Christmas and I’d been expecting people to be too busy getting ready for the festival to be out protesting, but there were still protests happening in London.

It was apparently Chelsea Manning’s 29th birthday and she was still in jail serving a 35 year sentence for espionage, theft and other offences. She had twice attempted suicide in the previous six months, the second time in November while in solitary confinement as a sentence for the first attempt.

Both a formal petition and one with over 100,000 signatures had been made earlier in the month to President Obama for clemency, asking him to reduce her sentence to time already served. Most commentators thought it unlikely to happen, although the protesters were hopeful – and a month later Obama did commute all but 4 months of her remaining sentence, saying it had been ‘very disproportionate’. President Trump said that she was an ungrateful traitor and should never have been released, but despite this, she was set free in May 2017.

This was a static and more or less silent protest on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields – all that is allowed there – and I was pleased to be able to produce quite a variety of images – and of course to have another opportunity to photograph Bruce Kent.

Vigil on Chelsea Manning’s 29th birthday

Kurds can always be relied on to be colorful, and I have a great deal of sympathy for them, particularly in Turkey where they have long been oppressed by the Turkish government. But this was a protest by Iraqi Kurds who have enjoyed some autonomy in Iraq since 1970 and more so in recent years, in support of the Peshmerga (or Peshmarga), the military force of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraqi Kurdistan, established in 1992 with the protection of a US no-fly zone after the first Gulf War.

The Peshmerga stood their ground when ISIS invaded Iraq, while the Iraqi army fled and were the most effective fighting force in the area. But ISIS captured a great deal of up to date US equipment left behind by the Iraqis and are better equipped than the Pershmerga, who need more support – and this protest was calling on the UK government for help.

The UK and other western nations have been reluctant to give much help to the Peshmerga, and the scarf worn by the woman on the right , with its map of Kurdistan explains why, including as it does a healthy chunk of the territory of one of our allies, Turkey, as well as parts of Iraq, Iran and Syria (and I think some of Armenia), all of the territory where Kurds are in a majority.  Having the Kurds fight and help defeat Da’esh is a good thing, but Kurdish nationalism and the establishment of a Kurdish state, which the protest was also for,  would not suit the UK or USA, or for that matter, Russia. It might not even suit the Kurds, as the constitution of Kurdish Syria (Rojava) currently a de-facto autonomous region thanks to the civil war, while inspired by the Turkish Kurd leader ‘Apo’ (Abdullah Öcalan) from his Turkish jail is a rather different politics to that of the Iraqi Kurds.

Kurds protest for a Free Kurdistan

Syria was the subject of a very different protest a few hundred yards away in Old Palace Yard, where healthcare workers, including some who had volunteered in Syria,  held a die-in at Parliament in solidarity with the Syrian people, calling for an end to the bombing by Russia and Assad of hospitals and for the UK government to pressure the Assad regime to allow the delivery of medicines and other aid.

Since the protesters were on the circle in the pavement I thought it would be good to photograph them from directly above. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought my helicopter with me, not even a drone or a monopod, and the best I could do was to stand on the edge of the circle and stretch up my right arm forward and up as high as possible, holding the camera with the 10.5mm fisheye on it. I couldn’t see the viewfinder or the screen on the back of the camera, so had to do my best and then bring the camera down and look to see how I’d done. It took only one frame to decide it looked better without the camera strap in it, but quite a few to get the framing right.

There was still one problem. Because I hadn’t had the camera above the centre of the circle it was definitely not a circle in the image. So I’m afraid I cheated, turning what had been a 1.5:1 image into the 1.31:1  image you see here and making that circle look much rounder.

Doctors & Nurses Die-in for Syria


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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