In any democracy the right to protest is a vital civil liberty that must be protected. Many of the improvements to our lives (from voting, minimum income, safe working conditions, improvements in racial and gender equality, to mention just a few) came about through effective protests carried out by people expressing their dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the government and those with power.
The current Home Secretary and Government refuse to engage with the underlying reasons for the need to protest, instead accusing protesters of being hooligans or criminals. Rather than listening to people’s concerns and addressing them, those in power have decided to try and outlaw protest and take away our rights of assembly with the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
This Bill would give even more powers to the police to restrict peaceful protests by giving them the powers to set conditions on where and for how long protests can take place, to set maximum noise levels, and to increase penalties for breaching any police conditions. This would prevent people from expressing their strength of feeling with any impact. It attempts to legislate against meaningful protest and undermines our freedom of assembly and association. Additionally, it creates a new trespass offence that would criminalise the way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities, at the same time as the government is failing to provide them with adequate sites and permitted stopping places. The Bill has serious implications for the public’s right to access the countryside and to people experiencing homelessness.
This Bill represents an attack on some of our most fundamental civil and democratic rights, in particular those from marginalised communities, and is being rushed through parliament when most of us are locked down due to the pandemic and with no time for any of the communities who will be adversely affected by it, let alone the MPs who will have to vote on it, to examine its profound implications.
I regard this as yet another dangerous step towards a totalitarian, authoritarian State. We have to do all that we can to stop this Bill from becoming law and to remove from office all those who are trying to take our rights away from us. We need to support initiatives such as the newly published Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights. Such a charter would ensure that public assemblies are protected, in a society based on equality and non-discrimination, that especially protects its vulnerable and disabled members. It would also ensure that protesters are individually rather than collectively responsible for their actions and not subject to surveillance and an invasion of their privacy. There would also be no financial burdens on organisers of peaceful protests, and there would be independent monitoring of the policing of protests.
We cannot allow the government, under the guise of protecting us from Covid-19, to instead make use of it as an opportunity to clamp down on human rights.
Angie Zelter, Knighton
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