How to make a citizen's arrest

The latest attempt to make a citizen's arrest on Tony Blair is saluted by campaigner Peter Tatchell, who was beaten unconscious in his attempt to apprehend President Mugabe

Share
Related Topics

The attempt by Twiggy Garcia, a London bar worker, to arrest Tony Blair last week for crimes against peace in Iraq was a brave effort to bring to justice a former Prime Minister who many people regard as having got away with waging an illegal war.

This is the value of citizen's arrest powers: they grant ordinary people the right to arrest the bad guys when the forces of law and order fail to do so. Too often the rich and powerful use their influence to evade justice. The right of citizen's arrest gives the unrich and unpowerful the means to make sure they don't get away with it.

The citizen's arrest statute dates back to medieval England and common law. It is today enshrined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Every citizen has the right to perform an arrest if they have evidence that a person has committed a crime.

I used this power in my two attempted citizen's arrests of the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe. I had evidence from Amnesty International that he had authorised the torture of Ray Choto and Mark Chavunduka, two journalists, in Harare. Torture is illegal under the UN Convention Against Torture and under Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

My first attempt was in London in 1999. Together with three colleagues from OutRage!, the queer rights group, I ran in front of Mugabe's limousine, forcing it to halt. I opened the rear door (amazingly it was unlocked) and physically arrested Mugabe on charges of torture. When the police arrived, they ignored the evidence of Mugabe's criminal acts. We were arrested, while he was given police escort to go Christmas shopping at Harrods.

Presumably, the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Attorney General were informed and they decided to allow Mugabe to return to Zimbabwe without facing any charges. In effect, they facilitated the continuation of his reign of terror and torture. On the opening day of our trial, all charges were dropped. I suspect because we had acted lawfully and the authorities did not want it tested in court. They feared that our possible acquittal might popularise citizen's arrests and give encouragement to others.

My second citizen's arrest bid was in 2001 in Brussels. When the Belgian government ignored my formal request to arrest Mugabe for torture, I ambushed him in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. This time, I was beaten unconscious by his body guards in full view of the Belgian police and secret service agents.

Neither of my attempts to bring Mugabe to justice succeeded. But the worldwide media coverage did draw attention to his human-rights abuses and gave a moral boost to the people of Zimbabwe who thought, at the time, that the outside world neither knew nor cared about their suffering.

This is one of the great virtues of an attempted citizen's arrest. Even if it doesn't succeed, it can help publicise an injustice. It's a way of raising awareness.

Since the Mugabe bid, I've plotted similar attempts on George W Bush, Ariel Sharon and Tony Blair. Alas, the security ring was too tight. But others have had a go. In 2008, journalist George Monbiot tried to arrest John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN. Two years later, in Canada, there was an attempted citizen's arrest of George W Bush. Also in 2010, Ed Balls MP faced an arrest bid by Democracy Village peace protesters for his support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Citizen's arrests are about citizen's power. They are an essential element of a democratic judicial system. Long may they continue.

Peter Tatchell is director of the human rights lobby the Peter Tatchell Foundation: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh  

Scottish independence: Forget Yes and No — what about a United Kingdom of Independent States?

Ben Judah
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week