This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Monday, December 08, 2003

The Blaine that nobody noticed

To those who flew burgers on a remote-controlled helicopter at David Blaine or fired golf balls at his glass case, I salute you! Earning millions by not eating while convincing people that it was a spiritual event is not magic. Surely a magician surprises and shocks an audience with skill. If Blaine had not eaten for 44 days and then pulled a rabbit out of his jacksy while shouting "TA DAA!", then fair enough.

The crass banality of using a hunger strike to earn millions didn't fully strike me until activists climbed Tower Bridge with banners in support of Simon Chapman. Arrested in June during demonstrations at the EU summit in Salonika, Chapman faced the prospect of 25 years in jail for a crime he didn't commit. He decided to go on hunger strike--without a Sky/Channel 4 deal and without being watched by millions.

With the exceptions of "alternative" outlets such as the Indymedia website, nobody initially covered his plight. If Chapman had been a British plane-spotter accused of spying, the Daily Mall would have had him on the front page, clamouring for justice, before you could say "ogling planes is a bit of an odd hobby". But Chapman is an anti-capitalist protester, and so it was just about impossible for papers such as the Mail, Times and Telegraph to break their logic that anti-capitalist equals violent thug. Even the Guardian, despite a few good articles, managed to run only 125 words on the concerns of Chapman's doctors on day 38 of his hunger strike, while in the same issue giving Blaine prominent coverage with an accompanying Christlike photo.

As the hunger strike wore on, the press interest increased, aided by the photographic evidence which supported Chapman's claims that he had been fitted up. The police said he had a black bag full of weapons. However, photos showed that Chapman had only a blue rucksack at the time of his arrest, and witnesses who saw him pack his bag say he had only water and a change of clothes in it. Then footage from Greek TV news showed the police putting an axe and hammer into a black bag and placing it by him.

The obvious injustice of the case was a factor in his release--as were the huge protests in Greece, with universities occupied and banks attacked. The smaller but significant UK protests played a part, too. However, Chapman's release (and that of the other four hunger strikers and the two minors imprisoned with them) were due mainly to their own actions in daring to challenge and humiliate the Greek authorities.

The day following their release, the Greek police--after months of denying that Chapman even had a blue rucksack at the time he was arrested--claimed to have found his bag. It was, they said, full of Molotov cocktails.

If true, this means the police had a bag full of bombs lying around their premises unnoticed for five months. Chapman is still forced to stay in Greece, and faces a legal battle with the authorities if he is to come home. And the prospect of 25 years in jail still hangs over him.


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