New laws put right to protest ‘under threat,’ campaigners warn


photo:The Red Rebels joining climate change protesters outside the Australian Embassy in London, where Extinction Rebellion staged a protest against the Australian government’s response to the wildfires in Australia in 2020

THE right to protest is “under threat” from proposed laws that could make it an offence to obstruct Parliament, campaigners warned today.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, announced in the Commons this week, aims to grant officers new powers against non-violent protests “that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel is believed to be seeking to make the obstruction of Parliament, courts and newspaper distribution by protesters unlawful, as well as to impose restrictions on where demontrations can be held.

The Bill is thought to be an attempt to crack down on civil disobedience by Extinction Rebellion (XR), after the climate activist group brought central London to a standstill and blockaded printing presses last year.

Campaigners have warned that the proposals “threaten our right to protest” and are an attempt to extend current restrictions on protest beyond the pandemic.

“The Home Secretary’s plans look, on the face of it, like a combination of defending business interests and petty vengeance against political and social movements she dislikes,” police monitoring group Netpol said.

Liberty interim director Gracie Bradley told LBC radio that she was concerned about the proposals amid the use of coronavirus regulations to curb protest.

“We’ve seen nurses fined £10,000 at the weekend for protesting about their pay and it looks like these supposedly temporary measures are going to become permanent and our right to stand up to power … will be reduced,” she said.

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Ms Patel’s proposals are also thought to target Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, which she has previously described as “dreadful.”

Black Protest Legal Support, a group set up to monitor policing of the BLM protests last summer, told the Morning Star that it is “vital we stand firmly against narrowing the space for civil disobedience, the attempted silencing of black voices and the chilling effect this will have on protest rights more broadly.”

Netpol has launched a campaign against the Bill and is calling on groups to back its Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights, which calls for greater protections for protesters. A Netpol petition has received more than 3,000 signatures so far.

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland did not dispute that the legislation was a “direct response” to BLM and XR, claiming that the “huge inconvenience” caused made new restrictions necessary.

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