#FreeJersey: A Small Island Fights For Its Democracy

The Jewel Of The Channel Islands

Almost everyone has heard of New Jersey, but few people have heard of “old” Jersey — the 5-by-9-mile island just off the coast of France that belongs to the British Crown and is best known for its wonderful Jersey cream, cows and potatoes.

What it is less known for: Jersey stows more tax-shelter money than any other offshore financial center on the planet.  (That’s right, more than the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands, you name it.) In fact, name any global bank or quote-unquote paragon of finance and it will almost certainly have some kind of presence here.

For hundreds of years, Jersey was torn asunder by the territorial pissings of England and France — an accident of geography, really, since the island lies in the English Channel between the two countries. As a result, its roads all have very long, ornate French names, but the people of the island speak the Queen’s English.

Another result: the island has an institutional memory of war, not excluding its status as a major base for Germany in WWII (which regarded Jersey as a great jumping-off point for the final showdown it was planning with Britain). Because of this, Jersey has learned to be extremely wary of outsiders.

Jersey: Tiny, But Complicated

Jersey is a self-governing, parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy with its own financial, legal and judicial systems. Its currency is pegged to the British pound, but it prints its own money, votes for its own senators and makes its own laws. Indeed, Jersey has an extremely polished external image that has earned it a very high ranking among the world’s tax havens, but internally its democracy appears to be foundering.

As someone who fell in love with Jersey when I was living in the UK, I have friends on the island and found myself looking into the problems there. A flashpoint in my research was the scandal surrouding an orphanage called Haut de la Garenne, where unspeakable violence, abuse and possible murder took place against children for decades — and yet the government did not stop it. An investigation finally undertaken in 2008 was shut down and the chief of police was suspended — twice — which seemed gratuitous. Those who stood accused largely went untried, but when the island’s health minister objected to this — and would not stop objecting — he was jailed. Also twice. Some of those who were labeled “priority suspects” by the island’s police are now working in high-level government positions in health and education where they continue to have indefensible access to children.

Jersey’s Campaign

Exactly one year ago today, I was banned from the UK as a result of my research into these events. I have continued my work from the U.S. and have had many outstanding supporters in the UK who have kept me going. Among them are Deputy Trevor Pitman, a member of Jersey’s Parliament, who put up a petition today in support of my return. If you believe in the power of the press and the right of even a very small, insular island to stand up for its democracy, please sign this petition (ten seconds) and spread the word. My ability to do my job in this case depends on it.

Today, my travel ban will expire due to the efforts of UK Member of Parliament John Hemming. But I will not be able to work safely until my UK visa is restored. Hence, the reason for Deputy Pitman’s petition (which, if you haven’t signed it yet, again, here it is: http://chn.ge/QCp7qy).

In addition, a group of Jersey citizens — including bloggers, current and former elected officials and concerned residents of the island — have issued a statement of solidarity this afternoon. It is their hope that by joining forces online, where they can best reach the international community for help and support, they can make a stand in defense of their island’s democracy. Featured on the Web site of Neil McMurray, one of the lead bloggers, I have posted their statement here:

Jersey’s Citizen Solidarity

Today is not a day to focus on right-wing versus left-wing politics, but the difference between right and wrong.

When a democratic government abuses its substantial legal, legislative and financial powers to crack down on journalists’ freedom of speech, force policemen and elected officials from their jobs and systemically dismantle its own checks and balances so as to deny each of its targets due process, clearly it is a government that has lost its way.

Jersey, the jewel in the crown of the Channel Islands, may be one of the world’s leading offshore financial centres, but it has begun to use its clout against its own people –and it is keeping the rest of its population in the dark about it. This is now a place where court and legislative records – those that are public anyway – can now be redacted. This is an island where secret trials are now allegedly taking place and elected officials are forced to debate key issues in secret. Web content is banned and journalists booted out. This is not the way a democratic government is supposed to be run.

Again, this is not about politics. It is about standing up for truth, honesty and integrity. It is about restoring the good name of our beautiful island whose reputation has been dragged through the mud by those attempting to cover-up the facts surrounding some of the most heinous crimes known to man – crimes of violence against children. Crimes the vast majority of islanders would never defend, yet most of those who stand accused of committing them have not been brought to justice and continue to walk among us and our children. Worse, these alleged perpetrators remain entrenched in some of the very highest echelons of Jersey’s government –working in departments that focus on children. It is beyond comprehensible.

On an island where children in need of care have been let down by the government for decades – and continue to be let down – we cannot afford to ignore or repeat our mistakes. More broadly, challenging the government’s current decisions, particularly when not made in the best interest of the public, should not require bottomless financial resources and friends in high places. We are supposed to be a democracy, right?

With our checks and balances hamstrung, the international and independent media may be our last chance at reclaiming our democracy and re-establishing rule of law.

Today, Jersey politician Deputy Trevor Pitman launched an e-petition on Change.org in support of the return of U.S. investigative journalist and author, Leah McGrath Goodman, to the island to continue her research into decades of child abuse at Jersey’s state-run “care”homes and allegations of cover-ups in the wake of the government’s removal of the chief of police and shut-down of the investigation.

One year ago today, Ms. Goodman was banned from the UK and Jersey for two years after revealing to the Jersey Customs and Immigration Service during a voluntary meeting that she was writing a book on atrocities against children at Haut de la Garenne. According to the UK Border Force, she was flagged by Jersey Immigration authorities for removal upon her next border crossing – and that is exactly what happened. After the intervention of UK Member of Parliament John Hemming, the ban was reduced to one year and it expires today, 11 September 2012. That said, the UK and Jersey have so far declined to restore Ms. Goodman’s visa or allow her cross the border to continue her research. In order to do so safely, she will need to have her Tier -1 visa status fully restored – hence, the reason for Deputy Pitman’s e-petition.

Leah McGrath Goodman should be permitted to complete her work in order that there is an accurate record based on the available facts and evidence. Jersey needs to confront the failings of its past so it can redress them and, most of all, ensure the safety of our children’s future.

We ask readers who care about the island’s children, who care about the island’s reputation, who believe in a free press and who want the truth to be told to sign Deputy Pitman’s e-petition. We also ask fellow bloggers to copy and paste this blog onto their own Web sites so that we may show the world that Jersey wants the best for its future and its children. It is time to leave our island’s culture of secrecy behind and demand the kind of free and open society our island deserves. Those who would do otherwise are not representative of the majority of islanders.

Please spread the word and sign this petition. The Internet is the one thing Jersey authorities have not been able to lock down. For those who tweet this campaign, please use the #FreeJersey hashtag.

While Jersey may try to keep journalists out, it cannot keep us for letting the truth in.