Coronavirus / Protest rights

Liberty Calls for Protest Protections

Posted on 22 Jan 2021

Government’s refusal to allow protests during lockdown has led to people’s right to challenge injustice being undermined

  • Liberty raises concerns after police stop protest of two
  • Governments must make protest exception to lockdown rules
  • Ability to hold Government to account vital in current crisis

Liberty has warned that the Government’s refusal to allow and facilitate protests during lockdown has led to people’s right to challenge injustice being undermined.

The warning was issued after officers from Kent Police stopped two asylum seekers from protesting (on January 12) over the conditions at the Napier barracks site where they are being held. This included concerns about the spread of coronavirus and the  lack of self-isolation for those infected. An outbreak at the site was reported days after the protest took place.

Liberty wrote to Kent Police this week (19 January) asking why the protest was stopped, particularly considering that it was carried out by two people who were part of the same household. In response, Kent Police said: “Under the current Coronavirus legislative restrictions protests are not permitted.”

This shows that current coronavirus rules are undermining people’s right to protest, Liberty has warned.

In response Liberty has called on the Government to add protest to the list of reasonable excuses for people to leave home or gather together outdoors, provided the protest is done safely and in line with social distancing rules – as it has done for many other activities which do not engage democratic rights.

Sam Grant, Liberty head of policy and campaigns, said:

“We should all be able to stand up against injustice – and for some, particularly those who are disenfranchised, protest is the only way to do that. Liberty has always supported proportionate action to protect lives, but people must not be criminalised for voicing opposition to how they or others are being treated. This is true even during a pandemic – and particularly when people are protesting because they do not feel safe.

“As the Government takes unprecedented steps to interfere with our rights, side-lines Parliament and attacks the rule of law, undermining protest is another threat to our ability to hold it to account and stand up to power. The Government must make an explicit exemption in the coronavirus rules to stop people’s right to protest being undermined.”

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