Anti-racism / Fundamental rights / Protest rights

LEADING CAMPAIGNERS CHAMPION RIGHT TO PROTEST

Posted on 24 Nov 2021

  • Gurkha campaign, disability rights advocates among protestors speaking out
  • Protest “protects all of us” say campaigners
  • Government’s Policing Bill widely condemned as it goes through Parliament

Prominent campaigners have condemned the Government’s Policing Bill and called for protest to be protected as a vital means for achieving justice, in support of Liberty’s campaigning today.

In a series of short films produced by Liberty, a network of influential campaigners, including the Gurkha campaigners, and other groups spanning issues including disability rights, domestic violence and community resources, spoke out on the Government’s crackdown on the right to protest.

The campaigners warn that critical fights for justice are at risk if the Government’s planned Policing Bill becomes law.

Campaigners speaking out against the Policing Bill include:

  • Gurkha Satyagraha, Gurkha former soldiers are campaigning for military pensions equal to those of the British troops they served with. Gyanraj and Yam went on hunger strike outside Downing Street to get the Government’s attention, and demand recognition.
  • Sistah Space, who successfully campaigned for a safe space in Hackney Central for Black domestic violence survivors after the Council evicted them and relocated them to a less accessible location
  • Susan Archibald, who campaigns fearlessly for disabled people’s rights. Protests Susan has organised and joined have changed Government policies and saved people’s lives.
  • The People’s Library, community campaigners who came together to save Friern Barnet Library when the council decided to close it so it could be turned into a supermarket

Liberty has been campaigning against the Policing Bill, which would give officers the power to shut down protests they decide have become too “noisy” or “disruptive”. It would create new protest-related stop and search powers, block protests at certain places, and threaten organisers with heavy fines and up to ten years in jail.

Under additions made just last week, the Bill would create new protest-specific stop and search powers and “Serious Disruption Prevention Orders” – that will criminalise protestors and shut down protests further.

The Bill also creates new stop and search powers and a “Serious Violence duty” that health and social care professionals say would breach their professional duty of confidentiality and put young people at risk. It also includes provisions that could criminalise the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities.

Gurkha veteran Yam Gurung said: “Until we’re treated equally by the British Government, we’ll keep protesting. The police made it very difficult for us to protest where we needed to be, to show the world how we were being treated. To get this harassment in the twenty-first century, in the UK where they teach human rights and the rule of law to others, this is very upsetting, but the Policing Bill will make this even worse.

“The Bill could make our peaceful protests illegal, and mean the police can shut down our fight for equal status, for our dignity, for our liberty.”

A spokesperson for Gurkha Satyagraha said: “Our protests got the British Government to agree to listen to our grievances in the highest government levels. The Policing Bill threatens such opportunities for diplomacy and government level attention.”

Susan Archibald said: “If the bill goes through my peers would either be arrested or stopped from campaigning. We do not have fair representation of MSPs or MPs who have a disability and understand what needs to change for us to make things better for the next generation.

“We have no equality and our rights are being removed everywhere, look at how many peers we lost due to the pandemic, disabled people’s services were closed, no respite no support, we were abandoned by all Governments it’s a disgrace.

“Let me be very clear: they will have to arrest me because I will never be silenced or prevented from campaigning peacefully for the very basic human rights my peers need to live not just survive.”

Ngozi Fulani from Sistah Space said: “The beauty of looking out over a sea of people and realising, this is one of the few occasions that I remember that the community came out for us in force. We had loads of people peacefully protesting.

“We have made a huge difference to people’s lives, advocating for and fighting for the rights of Black domestic abuse survivors.

“Our relationship with the police is not the same as everybody else’s, therefore this policing Bill, when people ask us about it, it will affect them differently than it will affect us.”

Roger Tichborne from the People’s Library said: “I have no doubt in my mind that if the legislation that is currently going through was passed, then a lot of the things we would have done simply wouldn’t have happened. Just imagine if this legislation, which means you could be arrested if you’re being a bit noisy, would I want to risk being locked up for ten years or a huge fine? I don’t think so. That is why this is a really bad piece of legislation, and it’s why it really should be opposed.”

Emmanuelle Andrews, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “These campaigners are just a few of the countless ordinary people who have relied on protest to protect their rights and campaign for justice.

“Protest is not just a women’s rights issue, a disability rights issue, or an anti-discrimination issue – it protects all of us. And the Policing Bill threatens that right, while putting at greater risk some of the most marginalised communities in the UK.

“The Bill contains new police powers that will stifle protest and impose more surveillance and control over minoritized communities, particularly Black men. It risks criminalising the way of life of Gypsies and Travellers, and erodes the ability of all of us – but particularly those communities already most cut off from the corridors of power – to stand up for our rights.

“The Government, and MPs, cannot ignore the rising chorus of opposition, nor the increasing evidence of the injustice this Bill will create. It must be scrapped.”

The Policing Bill has caused widespread outrage and a growing groundswell of objection to the Government’s dangerous proposals, including:

  • Over 600,000 people signed a petition against the Bill coordinated between human rights groups, environmentalists, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller advocates and other charities.
    Over 350 charities signed a letter calling for the Bill to be scrapped.
    Over 700 academics called for the Bill to be dropped.
    Three UN Special Rapporteurs warned the Bill threatens our rights.
    Polling found nearly two thirds of the public are concerned about the protest crackdown.
    Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said its proposals are “oppressive and wrong”.
    Liberty has also warned that the Bill is one part of a larger campaign by the Government to remove itself from accountability and undermine everyone’s ability to stand up to power.

Contact the Liberty press office on 07973 831 128 or pressoffice@libertyhumanrights.org.uk

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