Protest rights

Protest Bill is a threat to our rights

Posted on 09 Dec 2020

  • Government plans Bill in New Year to limit protest
  • Threat to protest an “attack on our ability to stand up to power”
  • Restrictions are latest attack on democratic safeguards

Liberty has condemned Government plans to restrict protest rights, reported today. The proposed law is a threat to democracy and “another attack on our ability to stand up to power”, the human rights group said.

Sam Grant, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Liberty, said: “We all want to be able to stand up for what we believe in, and in a healthy democracy protest is a key way that we can all fight for a better society. By restricting protest you do not protect democracy, you threaten it.

“These plans are the latest step in a clear campaign to undermine the right to express dissent, after a year that has seen people from all walks of life take to the streets to demand change and ensure their voices are heard.

“This move must be seen in the light of this Government weakening ways we can challenge it across the board, by trying to limit our access to law. Being able to challenge governments and other public bodies is at the heart of our democracy. Threatening protest is just another way this Government is limiting our ability to stand up to power.”

Along with other organisations, Liberty is concerned about a long-term trend of threats to the right to protest. In 2019, the Metropolitan Police unlawfully used an injunction to ban protest during the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations, at which thousands of people were arrested. Liberty distributed 24,000 legal advice cards to protestors during the first lockdown and Summer 2020.

During the Black Lives Matter demonstrations this year, the Home Secretary said that these protests were illegal, and many demonstrators were subject to aggressive police tactics such as kettling. Police monitoring group Netpol found “racism affected the manner in which police enforced lockdown regulations and responded to Black Lives Matter protests.”

On 2 November, a Home Office spokesperson said that protests are included in the ban on gatherings of more than two people, and on 4 November Home Secretary Priti Patel called on police to “strengthen” enforcement of the rules.

In the first few days of the second coronavirus lockdown in England, over 200 people were arrested at protests in London and Manchester, and more arrests were made at protests across the country over the following weeks. The Metropolitan Police incorrectly said that protests were illegal and made further arrests on 28 November. Liberty successfully campaigned for the Tiered lockdown regulations that came into effect in December to include an explicit exemption to make clear that they do not prohibit protests.

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