Immigration and migrants' rights / Protest rights


Posted on 20 Jun 2023

  • Peaceful banner drop planned to mark World Refugee Day and call on UK government to scrap its immigration bill stopped by police
  • Protest had been organised by human rights organisations including Amnesty UK, Freedom from Torture and Liberty
  • Shutdown comes amid ongoing crackdown on peaceful protest in the UK

A peaceful protest organised by Amnesty International UK, Freedom from Torture, Liberty and a coalition of other human rights organisations to mark World Refugee Day was shut down today (20 June) after police approached staff and activists while they were setting up the event.

They had planned to hang two 50-metre banners off Westminster Bridge calling for ‘Compassion not cruelty: refugees welcome’.

However, as they prepared for the event, police approached and told the individuals that they should stop, citing a danger to the public. Amnesty has carried out similar bridge banner-drops on several occasions in recent years and the police have never previously objected.

Today’s events take place in the context of a much wider clampdown on peaceful protest in recent years – with the UK government handing ever-more broad and sweeping powers to the authorities and pressuring police to do much more to muzzle even non-violent protest.

Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive at Amnesty International UK, said:

“The prevention of this peaceful protest on Westminster Bridge represents everything that is wrong with protest policing today.

“Our plan to drop a banner on the bridge to mark World Refugee Day, in solidarity with some of the most marginalised in society, was not something that warranted an instant shutdown, four police vans and a police boat.

“The enforcement of an obscure bye law today only underlines the brazen attitude police now have when they detect anything that might signify protest.

“As we have said time and again, the right to protest is fundamental to a free and fair society, a right for which people have had to fight long and hard.  Without the right to protest, everyone’s ability to hold the powerful to account suffers.

“If today’s debacle is anything to go by – alongside the increasing clampdown on peaceful protest we are seeing across the country – then we have entered a very, very dark era for protest policing in the UK.”

Natasha Tsangarides, Associate Director of Advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said:

“Today, we were prevented by police from unfurling a banner on Westminster Bridge which called for ‘Compassion Not Cruelty; Refugees Welcome’. This is yet another example of a clampdown on peaceful dissent against increasingly authoritarian laws being passed by this government.

“A wide cross-section of British society – from footballers to faith leaders – has made clear that the UK government’s refugee ban Bill is inhumane. For more than 35 years we have provided clinical services to refugees and survivors of torture who are now at risk of expulsion under this policy.

“Calling out the harmful consequences for survivors and campaigning for their human rights falls squarely within our duty. Our right to be able to do this is fundamental and Britain’s democracy is stronger for our efforts.”

Sam Grant, Advocacy Director at Liberty said:

“The Government’s broad and draconian anti-protest laws have paved the way for police to overreach their powers, and for people to be stopped from standing up to power.

“This banner drop was important to stand against the Government’s cruel Illegal Immigration Bill – which flies in the face of international human rights principles and will tear families and communities apart. We will continue to stand in solidarity with refugees and migrants and fight for their rights.

“Either everyone has human rights or no one does. It’s not up to the Government to pick and choose who does and doesn’t deserve them.”


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