Protest isn’t a gift from the State – it’s our fundamental right. But it has been under attack for years. And now the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will give police even more powers to shut down protests, and will criminalise people for taking to the streets to challenge injustice.
Protest is fundamental to democracy and has a long, proud history in the UK. But it has often come under threat.
Liberty was founded in 1934 after police threatened the protest rights of demonstrators on the National Hunger March. And still today, a raft of tactics are undermining your right to protest.
In recent years, the police have targeted some protesters with facial recognition surveillance technology. Liberty client Ed Bridges was scanned by facial recognition cameras at a peaceful Anti-Arms Fair protest in Cardiff.
People belonging to some protest groups have been considered extremists and added to counter-terror lists.
And people arrested at protests have faced the possibility of hugely disproportionate prison sentences that go far beyond fair consequences for their actions.
During the pandemic, police forces have wrongly claimed the COVID regulations placed a blanket ban on all protests, and have arrested and fined hundreds of people for demonstrating against injustice.
They have even arrested Legal Observers who act as independent witnesses to police behaviour at protests to help ensure people’s rights are respected. This is a shameful tactic to deter people from taking to the streets.
Now, years of Government and police attacks on the right to protest have led to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – also known as the Police Crackdown Bill. It will give police more powers to decide which protests can go ahead, where and for how long, creates a buffer zone around Parliament, makes causing ‘serious annoyance’ punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and more.
WHY SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED?
Protest empowers communities to stand up to injustice, influence decision makers and play an active part in democracy between elections.
And throughout history civil disobedience has been vital to safeguarding our democracy and securing our rights – from women’s right to vote, to the right to be protected from discrimination.
Heavy-handed crackdowns on protest grind democracy to a halt and violate our fundamental human rights.
WHAT IS LIBERTY DOING ABOUT IT?
Liberty has a proud history of defending the right to protest.
From our formation in response to police violence against Hunger March protestors to intervening in legal cases where demonstrators have been handed disproportionate prison sentences and taking on Public Spaces Protection Orders that make it more difficult for people to hold local demos, we will always stand up for peaceful protest.
We’re working with a vast coalition of human rights organisations, charities, protest groups, lawyers, academics, grassroots activists and campaigners to fight the Police Crackdown Bill.
The Bill is an attack on one of the fundamental building blocks of our democracy, and is another cynical attempt from the Government to shield itself from accountability for its actions.
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