Convention on Modern Liberty aims to set a new freedom agenda

By staff writers
24 Feb 2009

The Convention on Modern Liberty, which is due to take place in central London and across the UK on Saturday 28 February, has grown from a single event to a massive movement for change, say its organisers.

The main Convention (www.modernliberty.net), backed by civil rights charity Liberty, the Guardian newspaper, Joseph Rowntree Trusts and the openDemocracy website - with support from a host of other civic organisations, including religion and society think-tank Ekklesia - will take place at the Institute of Education in London next weekend.

There are also parallel Modern Liberty events in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester (http://www.modernliberty.net/satellite-conventions).

"This has grown beyond our wildest expectations," an organiser told Ekklesia.

The aim of the four-nation event, which crosses many political and social boundaries, is to galvanise opinion, analysis and action from the grassroots to challenge "attacks on fundamental freedoms under pressure from counter-terrorism, financial meltdown and the database state."

One of the key figures in bringing together the Convention on Modern Liberty is Anthony Barnett from openDemocracy, a writer, political commentator and former founder of Charter 88.

"Sixty years ago Britain was a proud co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms," he declares. "Now it is increasingly centralized, abandoning its historic principles some of which date back to the Magna Carta."

"We are entering a dangerous period in our country. Economic turmoil threatens profound hardship and disharmony. Disenchantment with politics is growing and even legitimate protest is threatened by an unprecedented programme of challenges to our rights, freedoms and democracy," says Barnett.

ID cards, detention without trial, restrictions on the right to protest, massive data accumulation by the state and corporate interests, attacks on human rights legislation, CCTV monitoring, stop and search power, and the abuse of anti-terror laws are among the many issues that will be examined at the Convention - which also has a range of high-profile speakers,

One of the many issues being tackled is "faiths and freedoms" (http://tinyurl.com/c6xwu4), in a seminar which will feature Christian, Jewish and Muslim contributors.

Fundamental human rights have been supported from many religious quarters, but it they have also been challenged or seen as a threat in others.

Ekklesia's Simon Barrow, who will chair the "faiths and freedoms" session, says: "The Convention on Modern Liberty embodies the new kind of people-driven politics that can emerge as traditional political institutions waver under growing worldwide pressures, and as they are tempted to resort to authoritarian measures."

"Similar challenges face organisations based around religion and belief," he adds. "Will faith groups turn in upon themselves, resort to aggressive popularism and shy away from sharing free public space with others? Or can they develop global understandings of citizenship and shared responsibility, rooted in the reflectiveness of their own specific traditions, which open doors and expose abuses of power?"

The London Convention on Modern Liberty event, which will attract over 1,000 people, has already sold out. But there is good news for those who want to be involved but can't get there or to one of the parallel regional and national events, says organiser Guy Aitchison: "It will now be possible to follow the Convention live via webcast on www.modernliberty.net thanks to Global MIX."

Aitchison explains: "We will be broadcasting all the keynote speeches, the plenary sessions and the main sessions taking place in the Logan Hall live on our website."

The Convention has already received considerable national media publicity, and has launched a document outlining sixty freedoms which are being threatened by government action or inaction.

A 'liberty central' web debate has been launched by one of the co-sponsors, The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral

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