Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Activists demonstrate against ‘draconian’ police law across the UK

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Activists have taken to the streets across the country in “Kill the Bill” protests and have called on the House of Lords to reject the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which would limit non-violent protests.

Demonstrations took place in cities including London, Bristol, Coventry, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Plymouth on Saturday.

The action preceded a crucial vote on the bill by peers on Monday.

Demonstrators describe it as a draconian crackdown on the right to assembly, freedom of expression and other civil liberties.

In London, many hundreds marched from Holborn to Westminster chanting “Kill the bill” and carrying placards reading “Defend the right to protest” and “We will not be silenced”.

A wide range of social, racial and environmental justice groups, including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, joined the rally demanding peers prevent the law from becoming law.

Baroness Chakrabarti of the Labor Party told a crowd in Parliament Square that the anti-protest provisions in the legislation “represent the greatest attack on peaceful dissent in living memory”.

She said: “This right-wing, authoritarian government used to encourage pro-Brexit demos and statue defenders when it suited them.

“This government scolds freedom of expression and whines about the culture of abortions.

“It’s a good game talking about China and Russia and any other place in the world where fundamental rights are being attacked.

“But freedom of speech is not a one-way street.

“And you know what? The ultimate abandon culture, it doesn’t come with a tweet — it comes with a police baton and a jail sentence for nonviolent dissent.”

Former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn warned the legislation would “disempower” the public.

He said: “If the right to protest is restricted, if you have to get police permission to do anything, where does that go?

“It causes every protest to become a conflict about having the protest rather than what the protest is about.

“This effectively disempowers us all, puts us all on the backfoot and puts us all in a totally defensive mode.

“So we end up endlessly defending things instead of demanding things.”

He added, “This feeling of disempowerment is said to have a depressive effect, especially in young people.”

Hundreds of clinical psychiatrists and psychologists have also expressed concern about the bill’s impact on young people’s mental health, writing in an open letter that restricting their right to non-violent protest “further increases young people’s trust in politicians and their beliefs Voices are heard, respected and counted”.

“We cannot imagine better measures to disempower and socially isolate young people,” write the more than 350 signatories in the letter published online.

The bill would subject protesters to long jail terms and hefty fines for acts causing “serious nuisance,” which noise alone could cause, and for anyone found guilty of “desecrating” a statue.

It would expand stop and search powers, and new laws against staying ashore with a vehicle would effectively criminalize Gypsy, Roma and Traveler communities.

Amendments added to the bill by the government in the House of Lords in November would make obstructing large transport work a criminal offense and would give police the power to ban named people from demonstrating or even use the internet to tell others to do so to encourage.

Ben Hancock, 70, from London, told the PA news agency: “The measures really are completely draconian, basically depriving everyone of the right to protest.

“I mean, we’re effectively being reduced to a state similar to Russia.”

Sue, 62, who only wanted to give her first name and traveled to the protest as part of Extinction Rebellion from Godalming, Surrey, said: “I think some of the provisions in this bill are strong on the kind of things we have protest against it.”

Tied to another protester, she added: “So for example we can’t be like that together, holding hands or even tying ourselves together.

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