People’s freedom to organise, collectively voice their opinions and influence political and cultural ideals and institutions is an essential feature of democracy, where citizens are involved in the shaping of their society.
Throughout history, people have engaged in countless and varied protests, their courage and commitment driving progress towards a more just and equitable society. Without the generations of brave protestors before us, we would not have so many of the rights and privileges many of us take for granted today.
In the UK, however, a new policing Bill to effectively ban protests is being rushed through Parliament.
The 307-page Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will extend even more power to the police to “tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect”.
Given that protests aim to raise visibility and awareness of a particular cause or issue, they are inherently disruptive. However, the proposed Bill will criminalise any public protest on the basis that it causes “serious annoyance” or “inconvenience”.
These draconian new laws are a threat to any protest group who take to the streets, giving police new powers to target activists if they are causing “noise” that may result in “serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or “serious unease, alarm or distress” to a passer-by.
The area around Parliament Square will also be a “controlled area”, meaning police can immediately shut down any protest or rallies outside Parliament, no matter how small or peaceful.
A number of human rights organisations, charities and unions have criticised the government’s proposed Bill and the consequences it would have for civil liberties.
In a joint statement, Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter state: “This appears to be a blatant attempt to create an authoritarian police state, where the voices of ordinary people, particularly those most marginalised and disadvantaged, are silenced by state-sanctioned penalties.”
There have been numerous petitions and protests to oppose the Bill since it was brought before Parliament last March. Over the Easter weekend, thousands of people joined marches and rallies as part of a “national weekend of action” in major cities across the UK, including London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Brighton.
Over 100 people were arrested at the Kill the Bill protest on April 4 in central London, where hundreds gathered to collectively voice their opposition to the oppressive Bill.
In the UK, our freedom to vote a particular political brand into power from a limited pool of affiliates grants us very little influence over the policies and changes actualized in our nation or local region.
Our right to protest gives us far more power to influence societal norms and values, and holds our political leaders and institutions accountable for their actions. It is therefore paramount that we continue to oppose any laws which limit our democratic freedoms.