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On trial over Scotland's census

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
Monday 24 September

Census prosecution of less than 1 in 37,000 is "persecution, not prosecution"

A peace activist will be appearing in Glasgow Sheriff Court tomorrow, accused of refusing to answer questions in last year's census. Barbara Dowling, a retired Occupational Therapist, 67, of Knightswood Glasgow, is being charged under the Census Act 1920, which makes non-compliance with the census a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1000. Her trial diet will be heard at 10am tomorrow, Tuesday 25 September.

Many thousands of Scots are believed to have failed to return census forms last year in protest at the involvement in Scotland's Census of CACI Ltd, a British subsidiary of a US-based defence contractor implicated in serious human rights violations at Abu Ghraib prison in in Iraq.

Staff working for CACI International played a part, along with US military personnel and other contractors, in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Although eleven low-ranking US soldiers were convicted by court martial of offences connected to the abuse of Abu Ghraib prisoners, no private contractors have been prosecuted over the scandal and CACI has refused to accept any responsibility for the abuse. Former Abu Ghraib prisoners are attempting to bring a lawsuit against CACI for its part in their ill-treatment and torture. Their legal action was given the go-ahead in May by a Federal Appeals Court in Richmond, Virginia. The court's decision follows years of legal argument, with CACI claiming that, as a US government contractor, it is immune to the lawsuit.

The former prisoners say that they were subjected to electric shocks, repeated beatings, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, forced nudity, stress positions, sexual assault, mock executions, humiliation, hooding, isolated detention and prolonged hanging from the limbs. They were eventually released from Abu Ghraib without charge.

SACC and other campaigning groups encouraged people to refuse to cooperate with the census in protest at CACI's involvement. Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that 365,702 addresses in Scotland failed to return a census questionnaire. Census staff considered that no questionnaire was required from 177,788 of these addresses, for example because the address appeared to be non-residential, vacant or derelict. This means that 187,924 Scottish households that were required to return a census questionnaire did not do so. This figure excludes people who chose to make their protest by returning their census questionnaire with some of the mandatory questions unanswered.

Yet just 5 people have been prosecuted over the census - a prosecution rate of less than one in 37,000. This is so gross an imbalance that SACC believes that proceedings against the five amount to persecution, not prosecution.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"CACI has so far escaped any legal sanction over its involvement in torture at Abu Ghraib. Even if the lawsuits currently proceeding against CACI are eventually successful, CACI will still have avoided having to answer for its actions under criminal law. Yet Barbara Dowling is being accused of a criminal offence because she allegedly left some blank spaces on her census form. Scotland's legal system is on the brink of making a fool of itself. The charges should be dropped."