Maya Evans interview

When I meet Maya Evans to interview her about her new book, it strikes me this cheerful, 26 year old woman does not seem to be much of a threat to our national security.


Unfortunately, our government disagrees.  On October 25 last year Maya was arrested under the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) for standing outside Downing Street and reading out the names of British soldiers who have died in Iraq.  Subsequently she became the first person to be convicted of participating in an unauthorised demonstration’ within one kilometre of Parliament.


Maya now has a criminal record and has been fined £300, which she refuses to pay.  "That’s something I’m not going to do on principle, because when you pay your fine you are conceding guilt so I’m not going to do that.  How could it be wrong to read a list of names outside Downing Street?" she asks. 


And technically it isn’t.  The provisions of SOCPA do allow public protest near Parliament, however, organisers must ask for permission and the police have the power to impose a variety of restrictions on the action.  Liberty, the human rights group, points out these powers allow any demonstration "to effectively be neutered."


Leading up to her arrest Maya was working with the peace group Justice Not Vengeance (JNV) on an international campaign to highlight the 100,000 Iraqis who had died in Iraq according to a 2004 Lancet report.  The group thought it would be a good idea to hold a remembrance ceremony outside Downing Street but then found out about the recently introduced SOCPA legislation.  It was then Maya "decided not to cooperate with it because to cooperate with it would be to cooperate with the erosion of civil liberties in this country."


She sees her arrest and conviction as "a best case scenario for a campaign" because she gained huge, sympathetic media coverage for her cause, making the front page of the Independent and the Daily Mail.  However, she generally found "journalists were more interested in the British soldier mortality rates than the Iraqis."  She is also critical of the wider media coverage of Iraq.  "It is well known in the peace movement that there is generally a media blanket over is happening in Iraq."  For example she points to the media’s silence surrounding the US attack on Fallujah in November 2004 which involved US forces bombing hospitals, cutting off the water and electricity supply, denying access to aid agencies and using chemical weapons.


Last summer Maya left her job as a vegan chef to complete a nationwide speaking tour and to write Naming the Dead, a short book about her arrest and her life prior to this.  She hopes "when people read the book they will feel inspired to be more proactive in their community."  However, she is careful to emphasize how important it is to do training – such as a Non-Violent Direct Action workshop – to be prepared and aware of your rights if you are arrested.  "If you know exactly what you are doing and getting in to then it is more likely to be a positive and empowering experience and you will be getting something out of it rather than it taking something out of you."


Like JNV, Maya is committed to effecting change through non-violent means.  Wary of sounding too idealistic, she believes "if we could move towards a society that did work by diplomacy rather than violence, and violence just wasn’t an option, then I think people would get a lot more in to the use of diplomacy and it would work."  When asked if this commitment to non-violence stretches to the Iraqi resistance, Evans says "I think they have legitimate grievances.  The invasion has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis… but I don’t agree with violence and it is making the situation worse and it is legitimising the US‘s foreign policy."  But she is not pious: "To say ‘just be tolerant and let them shoot your women and children’.  I wouldn’t say that to an Iraqi freedom fighter."


Although Maya was recently arrested for a second time for taking part in the No More Fallujahs peace camp, next year she hopes to focus her energy on JNV campaigns countering possible US/UK aggression against Iran and Islamaphobia in the UK.  A History graduate, Maya sees "certain parallel tactics used by our government" in its demonisation of Muslims and the propaganda the Nazis used against the Jews in 1930s Germany.  She is hoping to make a documentary on this topic, and is trying to find people who might be helpful, "such as people who can do the camera work or sound engineers and the rest of it – the technical things."


The campaigning journalist George Monbiot once said, "If you support power, you are rewarded.  If you fight it, you are punished.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s not hard to resist for a few years.  But to resist every day of your working life is tough."  So what keeps Maya Evans going?  "I think what keeps me going is the fact that I’m right.  It’s really difficult to justify the Iraq war.  And it’s really hard to justify SOCPA as being a necessary piece of legislation to prevent terrorism because not only logic but facts prove they are not legitimate or necessary."  She concludes, "To ignore that and blend in I’d feel I wasn’t being true to myself."



Naming the Dead by Maya Evans is published by JNV publications, priced £7.  Ian Sinclair is a freelance journalist based in London, England. [email protected]


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