How can you trust Citizens Advice help on Universal Credit when you know the organisation has agreed not to say anything about it that harms the Conservative government’s reputation?
The ‘gagging’ contract that Citizens Advice signed in return for £51 million of government funding does stipulate that it is only banned from anything that brings the government “unfairly” into disrepute – but who defines those terms?
It seems clear that this was an attempt to guarantee the silence of the largest organisation dealing with the mountain of problems created by the fundamentally-flawed Universal Credit disaster.
If someone dies as a result of this nightmare of a policy, and Citizens Advice knows about it, may we expect that organisation to do its public duty and blow the whistle?
Or will it cover up the facts, for fear of upsetting the Tories – and perhaps losing some of that fat funding formula?
Never mind the Tory government’s reputation. Before putting pen to paper, the bosses of Citizens Advice should have thought of their own.
Two charities that will receive £51 million in government funding to provide advice and support to claimants of universal credit (UC) signed gagging clauses that prevent them bringing the Department for Work and Pensions “unfairly” into “disrepute”.
Both Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) signed grant agreements with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – worth a total of £51 million – that include the same clause.
By signing the documents, it means they cannot take “any actions which unfairly bring or are likely to unfairly bring [DWP’s] name or reputation and/or [DWP] into disrepute”.
He told Disability News Service (DNS) that the grant “does little more than help some people claim universal credit and not address its inherent flaws, it just helps impose UC misery on its service users, through this £51,000,000 bribe.
“Citizens Advice provides help to large numbers of those punished by universal credit, such as disabled people and families who have ended up losing thousands of pounds by claiming UC, vast rises in debt, rent arrears, evictions, survival crime, five week delays in first payments and the horror of its inbuilt benefit sanctions and excessive conditionality.
“Against this background, does Citizens Advice campaign and advocate for universal credit to be stopped and abolished?
“No, it decides to act as a mere duplicitous adjunct of the DWP and even agrees to a grant gagging clause that prevents them from being critical of the DWP.”
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said NHS non-disclosure agreements – so-called ‘gagging orders’ preventing whistle-blowers from speaking up – are to be ended.
He says his government is on the side of the whistle-blowers, which seems odd, considering his government was the organisation that imposed the obligation of silence in the first place.
The health secretary has vowed to end the use of non-disclosure agreements that prevent would-be NHS whistleblowers speaking out.
Matt Hancock said he wants more people to feel they can “put their head above the parapet”, and described settlement agreements that infringe on people’s rights to voice concerns as “completely inappropriate”.
Perhaps this is simply a rule that has outlived its usefulness and the Tories don’t need it any more?
The fact that the Tories are asking firms to sign non-disclosure agreements is tacit confirmation – not only that a no-deal Brexit is now likely, but that it will also cause an incalculable amount of harm to the UK economy.
This leads us inexorably to the other reason an NDA would be demanded; the information the Tories would provide to company representatives must be so damning that they think it will seriously harm not just the economy but their party’s electability.
The Conservatives know that they are responsible. Not only did they trigger the referendum that led to this point, they made sure no effort was made to explain what Brexit would mean in the run-up to the vote, and they have squabbled among themselves like children rather than acting in the interests of the country after it.
But they want to hide this from the general public.
So they are forcing gagging orders on anybody they think might give the game away.
With less than five months to go before we sever our ties with our greatest trading partner, the UK is on the brink of Conservative-created catastrophe.
Drug companies are being told to sign gagging clauses before discussing contingency plans for a chaotic no-deal Brexit with the government.
The Department for Health and Social Care has asked drug companies as well as bodies representing the pharmaceutical industry to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) so that officials can talk to them “in confidence” and ensure that “any requests of them are clear, appropriate and deliverable”.
Labour accused the government of silencing the health sector. After last week’s revelations about the retail magnate Sir Philip Green’s use of NDAs, Theresa May vowed to crack down on employers who are “using them unethically” and to “improve the regulation around NDAs”, although the prime minister did not condemn the use of gagging clauses altogether.
The Home Office says Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) – otherwise known as gagging orders – imposed on members of the Windrush generation who suffered discrimination from the Conservative government are no longer in use.
To This Writer, this indicates that the government has succeeded in silencing everybody it wanted to keep quiet.
Why? What were they likely to say?
Clearly it is utterly unacceptable for the Tories to have threatened to withhold payments to people they have wronged, unless those people agree to remain silent – that is blackmail, a criminal act.
So we may suggest that Mr Javid is a blackmailer.
That’s not a good look for our new Home Secretary!
He needs to go back before the Home Affairs Select Committee and explain himself.
Shame that won’t happen for several weeks, or even months – by which time this matter will be forgotten.
I wonder what Windrush citizen Aldwyn Roberts, who recorded London Is The Place For Me, would say about it?
I doubt he’d be saying “the English people are very much sociable”; still it gives me the opportunity to use the song (he was singing it as he stepped off the Empire Windrush).
Sajid Javid has been accused of trying to “buy the silence” of the Windrush generation by imposing non-disclosure agreements on citizens in return for fast-track compensation payments.
The Guardian revealed last month that several Windrush citizens had been paid some compensation by the Home Office, but then asked to sign an NDA, to the concern of others still waiting for assistance.
Over the weekend the Independent reported others had been put in similar positions in return for speedy payments.
The home secretary told MPs last month that a new compensation scheme for Windrush-era migrants would not involve gagging clauses. “No one will be asked to sign any kind of non-disclosure agreement or anything like that,” he said.
But just days earlier, on 13 July, he had written to the home affairs select committee (HASC) to say that payments had already been made through other routes in some cases and an NDA could have been used.
“I can confirm that Windrush generation cases are sometimes addressed through this route … Whilst there is no requirement, settlement offers are sometimes accompanied by confidentiality clauses, depending on individual circumstances.”
Introduced in 2014 and dubbed the ‘charity-gagging law’, the Lobbying Act provides a set of rules for charities that publicly campaign in the run-up to elections [Image: Getty].
We knew this would happen when the so-called Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act was imposed on the UK, back in 2014. It was labelled the “Gagging Act”, for crying out loud!
And we had hard evidence of it in February 2015 – more than two years ago, when John Pring of Disability News Service wrote: “Disability organisations have been intimidated by new lobbying laws – and the risk of losing government contracts – into failing to campaign on key issues like social care and welfare reform in the run-up to the general election, say disabled campaigners.
“They fear that the “sinister” impact of last year’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act [also known as the ‘Gagging’ Act], and the trend towards funding charities through government contracts to provide services, are ‘closing down all debate’.”
I remember attending meetings with my MP, who at the time was the Liberal Democrat Roger Williams. He made promise after promise to stand up for free speech – to our faces – then went back to Westminster and told us that cosmetic changes made by the Conservatives meant there was nothing to worry about.
We all knew that wasn’t true, and in the 2015 general election Mr Williams was replaced…
By a Conservative!
Local politics is insane. And the “Gagging Act” has been given free rein to live up to its name.
Labour has vowed to repeal it – but Labour is not in office, due to bizarre decisions by the voting public in June this year. Perhaps it’s time to vote sanely?
More than 100 charities have warned that they are being gagged by controversial government legislation that they claim is preventing them from campaigning on issues affecting the poorest and most marginalised groups in society.
An open letter signed by 122 organisations including Save the Children, Greenpeace and Christian Aid says campaigning is being “lost” from public debate due to the “draconian” requirements of the Lobbying Act.
Dubbed the “charity-gagging law”, it dictates what charities can do publicly in the 12-month run-up to elections in order to ensure individuals or organisations cannot have an undue influence over the vote.
Given the possibility of a snap election, charities say they are not able to carry out political campaigns now for fear of being hit with retrospective fines.
Remember when the Transparency of Lobbying, Third-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act (otherwise known as the Gagging Act) was passed, in January this year? Vox Political warned that it marked the end of free speech and free protest in the UK.
The article showed that the new law means you may no longer link up with others to protest government actions in any meaningful way – as such action may breach Liberal Democrat and Tory government-imposed spending limits. Your personal complaints will be deemed unrepresentative of the people.
In that article, this blog asked why the government has launched its attack on free speech and free protest, and suggested the following: Perhaps it wants to control the information you receive, on which you base your voting intentions?
This week we received confirmation of that theory – or at least, some of us did.
The ‘tax statements’ being sent out to Income Taxpayers by the Treasury – on the orders of George Osborne – are nothing less than party political electioneering, being carried out using those taxpayers’ own money rather than the Tory Party’s funds. The leaflet is worded in a very carefully-chosen way that betrays a clear intention to mislead readers – most particularly about the amount of our Income Tax that is spent on ‘welfare’.
To illustrate the extent of the problem: We cannot say this is the same as social security, as – according to the terms of the leaflet – it isn’t. Apparently a quarter of our money is spent on ‘welfare’, which is then broken down into bizarre categories like ‘social protection’ – including, alongside social security, personal care services which nobody has defined as ‘welfare’ until know, and the pensions of retired mandarins, colonels and lowlier public servants who will be appalled to hear their hard-earned retirement provision re-labelled as ‘welfare’, according to The Guardian‘s editorial on the subject. David Cameron’s pension would be defined as ‘welfare’, according to this categorisation.
Meanwhile, state pensions have been defined as being paid from an entirely different source (they aren’t), in order to safeguard the Grey vote from the indignation that – clearly – this piece of politically-prompted propaganda is intended to stoke.
The fact is that – as the Mirror points out – Income Taxpayers put a lot more than 12p in every pound towards pensions, and a lot less than 24p in every pound towards working-age benefits.
Here are another couple of tricks – possibly the nastiest of the lot: Firstly, the leaflet does not make it clear that ‘welfare’ payments are made to people who have a right to them “because of family or medical circumstance, or indeed a record of national insurance contributions”. The impression foisted on the reader is of “unearned handouts to the poor”, according to the Guardian editorial.
Secondly, the leaflet as a whole does not mention the contribution of VAT payments to the national purse. This is because the government has cut Income Tax (irrationally – it has a huge deficit and debt to pay off but has reduced its own income). The thinking behind this is that people will think they have been allowed to keep more of the money they have earned. But the same government has increased VAT, meaning that – in fact – people are being taxed more heavily!
What is the intended result of all this deception? It is as Vox Political described, back in January:
“You would be led to believe that the governments policies are working, exactly the way the government says they are working.
“You would not have any reason to believe that the government is lying to you on a daily basis.
“You would be tranquillised.
What a relief that nobody believes that filthy liar Osborne – even his own backbenchers!
This is how they see him – offering empty promises as a ‘carrot’ to encourage voters to support the Tories.
Osborne’s behaviour is so appalling that this blog has started a petition, calling on the government to withdraw these propaganda sheets that pretend to be official government information – and apologise for ever releasing them in the first place.
I’m not saying someone in the Labour Party read Vox Political‘s massively popular article on the passing of the Transparency of Lobbying And Lots of Other Nonsense Act in Parliament, but the mention of free speech and the right to campaign (free protest) does indicate they’ve been paying attention to someone.
I’ve received the following from a commenter, Pat. It’s self-explanatory:
“This is the email i received this evening from Ed Miliband
“’Thank you for getting in touch with me about the gagging law. I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to get back to you.
“‘To hear from thousands of you was inspiring. It galvanised my belief that when people can stand up like you did and hold politicians to account our democracy is alive and well. And I have no intention of allowing the Tories and Lib Dems to silence you.
“‘So I want you to be the first to know: a Labour government will repeal David Cameron’s gagging law.
“‘I have been clear from the start that I oppose this gag on charities and campaigners, which was introduced with little consultation. If Labour wins the next election, we will remove it from the statute book.
“‘In its place we will legislate for real reform of lobbying, and we will consult with charities and campaigners on the reforms we need to both ensure transparency and protect freedom of speech.
“‘There is much wrong with this law — and that’s why we’re taking a stand against it. You had some specific questions for me in your original email. Here are specific answers.
“‘If we win the election next year, the Labour government I lead will:
Repeal the changes to non-party campaigning rules, which create such an illiberal gag on charities and campaigners (i.e. the Section 2 you mentioned in your email to me)
We will hold a full consultation with charities and campaigners to determine what reform we need in its place
We will ensure that any reform we bring in will both ensure transparency in elections and protect freedom of speech
“‘Thank you again for raising this issue with me. The health of our democracy depends on people’s right to campaign on the issues they care about. It must be protected.
I look forward to working with you to make sure the gagging law is repealed.’”
Vox Political refuses to be gagged in any event
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Gone in a penstroke: If the Deregulation Bill becomes law, Acts of Parliament that protect your freedom could be removed from the statute book at a minister’s whim.
I have spent much of today putting old paperwork through the shredder in advance of tomorrow’s debate on the Deregulation Bill.
Why? Hidden among the plans to revoke ancient laws regulating pigsties is a clause that revokes the freedom of the press – in particular, the freedom of journalists to protect their sources.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats don’t want reporters to be able to protect political whistleblowers and the information they release from state harassment and confiscation.
Vox Political has long warned that the Coalition government was pushing us towards totalitarianism, and that is exactly what this apparently innocuous – but in fact deeply pernicious – piece of legislation proves.
We’ve had the gagging law, to silence organised dissent; we know that police chiefs want to use water cannons to stifle public protest; now we are faced with a cloak-and-dagger scheme to silence the press.
The removal of these privileges means the media will be unable to report anything that does not meet government approval – or face confiscation of equipment including computers, notebooks, recordings and correspondence that will lead to the identification of people who provide information that the government wants hushed up.
As a blogger who is also a qualified journalist, this directly affects me – and that is why I have been destroying paperwork. Tomorrow is only the Bill’s second reading – it must go through the committee stage, report stage and third reading before moving on to the House of Lords – but it is better to be well-prepared than to be caught napping.
Far more insidious than this, however, is the other part of this ‘red tape-cutting’ Bill that goes unmentioned. The really harmful part…
The part that says ministers should have the power to revoke any law they like, using statutory instruments (at the stroke of a pen) rather than taking the issue to a democratic vote in Parliament and, you know, actually telling anybody about it.
This means freedoms we have enjoyed for centuries- or just a few years – could be removed with no prior notice, under the pretext of getting rid of ‘red tape’.
We would certainly be living in a police state if this were allowed to happen.
So here’s the big question: Do you think your MP even knows about this?
I only know because I read it onAnother Angry Voice– from which site this article has swiped much of its information.
In his article, AAV creator Thomas G. Clark points out: “The Tories that devised this scheme… are clearly relying on the vast majority of Coalition MPs voting this through as the whips instruct them, without bothering to even read the documentation, understand the intricacies or even participate in the debate.
“If you chose to ignore the wealth of evidence and refuse to believe that David Cameron and the Tories would use these new powers to… stamp out dissent for their own sociopathic reasons, then at least consider the possibility that they are enabling the possibility of an unimaginably invasive totalitarian regime in the future. One where open justice is abolished, the population permanently monitored for signs of dissent, and dissenters are silenced in secretive Stalinist style legalistic proceedings.”
Obviously AAV and Vox Political will be right in the firing-line if this happens.
You need to contact your MP and ask what they’re going to do about this appalling assault on your freedom. Tell them about the clauses in the Deregulation Bill that have nothing to do with removing archaic regulations and everything to do with clamping down on your freedom and tell them in no uncertain terms that you won’t have it.
It’s farewell to your centuries-old right to free speech today, after your Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs won their bid to get the Gagging Bill passed by the House of Lords. It won’t go back to the Commons because the Lords made no amendments.
While you, personally, will be allowed to continue complaining about anything you want, you will no longer have the ability to link up with others to protest government actions in any meaningful way as such action may breach Liberal Democrat and Tory government-imposed spending limits. Your personal complaints will be deemed unrepresentative of the people.
You will still be able to have your e-petition on the government’s website – if you win enough signatures to have it debated in Parliament – ignored by the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons.
The Liberal Democrats and Tories have even managed to rub salt into the wound by creating a register of all the corporate lackeys who will still be able to influence their policies – freelance lobbyists employed by large companies for the specific purpose of swaying government policy. Lobbyists who are company employees will not be listed as the government says their purposes for meeting MPs should be obvious.
This means the new law will do nothing to restrict the power of corporations to write government policy or prevent lobbying scandals such as those involving former Tory MP Patrick Mercer, along with Tories Peter Cruddas and Liam Fox.
The new law protects in-house corporate lobbying operations from official scrutiny, while preventing the public from enjoying the same privileges of access to the government. That is what your Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs have fought so assiduously to obtain, over the eight months or so that this legislation, “one of the worst… any government produce[d] in a very long time”, has spent being digested by Parliament.
In a Commons debate in September, Glenda Jackson MP warned that her constituents “know that the Bill… would prevent democratic voices from being heard”.
In response, Andrew Lansley – the Conservative who gave us the hated Health and Social Care Act 2012, another incredibly poor piece of legislation – said; “I look forward to the Honourable Lady having an opportunity… to go back to her constituents, to tell them that the things they are alarmed about will not happen.”
@UKJCP immediately resurrected itself as @DeadParrotJCP and @Director_UKJCP. We’ll see how long they last.
Let us not forget, also, that the third part of this law cracks down on trade unions, enforcing strict rules on membership records to ensure, it seems, that it is possible to ‘blacklist’ any trade unionist who finds him- or herself seeking work.
With free speech flushed away, you may still resort to public protest – but the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has that covered.
ACPO is an organisation that has tried to put ‘agent provocateurs’ into legitimate protest groups and promoted ‘kettling’ to stop peaceful protests (as used in the student protests early in the current Parliament), among many other reprehensible activities.
Considering its track record, it seems clear that ACPO wants to use water cannons against legitimate political protests, on the assumption that the increasing imposition of ideologically-imposed austerity on the country by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives will lead to more political protests, as people across the UK finally realise that the Tories and their corporate lobbyist friends are actually working against the wider population.
ACPO’s report on water cannons makes it clear that “it would be fair to assume that the ongoing and potential future austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest” and “the mere presence of water cannon can have a deterrent effect”.
The Home Office response? “We are keen to ensure forces have the tools and powers they need to maintain order on our streets. We are currently providing advice to the police on the authorisation process as they build the case for the use of water cannon.”
So there you have it. Take to the streets in peaceful protest and your police service will assault you with water cannons, with the blessing of your government.
There remains one option open to you – your vote. You could get rid of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats at the next general election in 2015.
But that leads us to ask why the government has launched its attack on free speech and free protest.
Perhaps it wants to control the information you receive, on which you base your voting intentions?
We already know the unelected Conservative and Liberal Democrat government is using the predominantly right-wing media for this purpose. For example: George Osborne made a great deal of fuss earlier this week, alleging a huge resurgence in the British economy. With help from Tory mouthpiece the BBC, he was able to put out the headline figure that the economy grew by 1.9 per cent in 2013 – its strongest rate since 2007.
Osborne also claimed that Britain is doing better than all comparable economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and that the upturn is due to his imbecilic “expansionary fiscal contraction” policy, otherwise known as austerity.
All of these claims are false, or intended to create a false impression.
Firstly, his 1.9 per cent of growth started at a much lower level of output than would have been the case if Osborne had not imposed austerity on us all and stopped the 2010 recovery dead. GDP would now be 20 per cent higher than its current levels if not for this single act of stupidity from the stupidest Chancellor in British history.
Secondly: The US economy recovered from an eight per cent fall after 2008 to a five per cent rise above its previous peak by the third quarter of 2013. Germany is the only major European country to enjoy growth of two per cent or higher, after an initial recovery based on increased public expenditure – not austerity. Even France has nearly reached its pre-crisis peak. The UK remains two per cent below its previous economic peak.
Finally, Osborne did not even get to this miserable excuse for a recovery by imposing austerity. He quietly adopted a stimulus policy to avoid going back into recession. What do you think ‘Funding for Lending’ is? Or his mortgage guarantee scheme?
If George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May, ACPO and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition in Parliament had their way, you would not have access to any of these facts.
You would be led to believe that the governments policies are working, exactly the way the government says they are working.
You would not have any reason to believe that the government is lying to you on a daily basis.
You would be tranquillised.
Would you vote against a government that tells you such wonderful things, even when your own circumstances might not reflect that story (real wages fell by seven per cent in the private sector and five per cent in the public sector between 2007-13)?
David Cameron is betting his career that you won’t.
Loss of freedom: Every day the Coalition government tries to take something away from you; at the moment, it’s your right to free speech.
With the Antisocial Behaviour Bill successfully blocked (for the time being), defenders of Free Speech may return to the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, and its provision to block any campaigning that our right-wing government doesn’t like.
Caroline Lucas MP, writing in The Guardian today, informs us that the Tories’ and Liberal Democrats’ current rationale for the plan to gag us all is to prevent, say, large fracking firms from spending huge amounts of money in her Brighton Pavilion constituency to unseat her.
The Green Party MP writes: “Yes, apparently Tory and Lib Dem supporters of the bill are defending its swingeing provisions at public meetings up and down the country by claiming they’re necessary in order to prevent fracking firm Cuadrilla pumping a million pounds into Brighton Pavilion to unseat me, and – of course – they would hate to see that happen.”
This is laughable. No member of one party would lift a finger to prevent a member of another from losing their seat.
However, we can use this argument to get to a more likely truth – simply by reversing it.
So let’s suggest that the plan to cut, drastically, spending limits on campaigns by third-party organisations, to broaden the definition of what constitutes campaigning in order to catch more people within the legislation and to regulate organisations lobbying on issues at constituency level is in fact intended to protect Conservative and Liberal Democrat seats from attacks by ordinary people like you and me.
Does this seem more likely?
The evidence does tend to stack up in favour. The legislation is already well-known as the ‘Gagging’ Bill and, as Ms Lucas explains in her article, “would effectively shut down legitimate voices seeking to raise awareness on issues of public interest, whether they are on NHS reform, housing policy, or wildlife conservation”.
Taking just those three examples, the general public remains infuriated at the way the Health and Social Care Act – otherwise known as the NHS Privatisation Act – was pushed through Parliament while mounting public and professional opposition to its provisions was ignored. We counted on our representatives in Parliament and in the press and they let us down. The BBC in particular should hang its corporate head in shame. The ‘Gagging’ Bill would ensure that we could not raise the issue again during an election period, giving the Coalition parties a chance to brush it under the carpet or dismiss it as old news.
The Bedroom Tax will remain a burning issue until after the 2015 election, whether the government likes it or not – the recent revelation that regulations governing people who were social housing tenants before 1996 exempt them from the Tax ensures it, as the government has already committed itself to re-writing those regulations and re-assessing the tenants who are currently let off the hook. Not only that, but tenants who have already lost money – or perhaps even their homes – because they didn’t know these regulations still applied will want reparation for the way they have been treated; let’s not forget that any harm done to those tenants is an illegal act. The ‘Gagging’ Bill would sideline these people and this issue.
As for wildlife conservation, you may be aware that there has been a hugely controversial cull of badgers in a couple of English counties. The pretext for this is the eradication of Tuberculosis – the badgers are said to carry the disease and pass it on to cattle, causing costly damage to herds. However, it seems not one culled badger has been tested for the disease – and at £4,100 per dead badger, is the cull not fairly costly itself?
Coming back to the Guardian article, Ms Lucas hits the nail on the head: “Big business or wealthy people like Lord Ashcroft don’t influence politics through charities, small community groups or campaigning organisations. They often already gain it through family connections or social networks, or they buy it through donations to political parties. Or, in the case of the big energy companies, they helpfully supply staff to work in government departments. The provisions of the lobbying bill will do nothing to stop any of that.
“Sadly, one of the underlying reasons for the government’s attempts to push through this bill is that it is afraid of the power of informed and organised public opinion.
“If Nick Clegg and David Cameron get their way, the legitimate voices of the third sector will be suppressed, and their power neutered.”
Isn’t that what tyrants (or in this case, wannabe tyrants) do?
Blogs like Vox Political will continue to highlight these issues – while we can. The site needs YOUR support to fight effectively for freedom of speech. You can make a one-off donation here:
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