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Opinion: Has The Right To Peaceful Protest Been Consigned to History? By Gethin Thurlow

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Opinion: Has The Right To Peaceful Protest Been Consigned to History? By Gethin Thurlow

Protests against the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act have taken place throughout the country.

We cannot sit around and watch this draconian government take away our basic and essential human rights.

When looking at history we can see that time and time again protest movements are on the right side. Society becomes more accepting, progressive and a generally nicer place to be for everybody (except one or two stubborn grouches in the corner) because of grass roots rebellion; it’s never the people in power making changes for the better. We now look back in shame at the lack of rights women had before the suffragette movement. It took peaceful protest, direct action, hunger strike, violent protest and even martyrdom for women to be considered worthy of a vote. Another cause for shame was the incarceration of gay men before homosexuality was eventually decriminalised in 1967. Gay Pride events currently are celebratory occasions but this is only due to the original Gay Pride events and activists who challenged the establishment and wider society by standing up, braving hate and risking arrest to ensure every adult had the right to a loving romantic relationship. None of this evolved smoothly: progress happened because of people power. In the words of Harriet Harman, the Conservative’s own Chair of the Parliament Committee on Human Rights, protest is “the essence of democracy”.

The Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act is a shameful attempt by this government to crush any resistance into the ground and demoralise people into obedience. It allows police to stop any protest on the basis of protesters causing anyone `serious annoyance’. But isn’t that the point of a protest – to shake things up and get under the collar of the general public, thus drawing attention to the issue? Protesters who want to challenge the government on its awful climate policy and actually give humanity a chance to survive could be arrested for merely walking in the vicinity of a demonstration. It is also designed to shut down Black Lives Matter protests, once again targeting people who challenge the status quo of the state. The victims here are those who dare to confront the institutional racism endemic within the British elite. As Amnesty International UK CEO Sacha Desmukh pointed out, it is a “widespread attack on human rights” which allows the government to get away with passing illegal legislation such as the plan to send any asylum seekers fleeing war and other atrocities to Rwanda and face no criticism – because that’s illegal now.

Another section of the establishment which favours the crushing of resistance and enforcing of obedience is the police; the powers of whom have been scarily expanded. They can arrest people for carrying everyday items which `may’ be used at a protest and stop and search powers have been expanded to anyone the police suspect might be attending a protest. The sirens are not wailing on police cars in this situation, but more in the minds and hearts of any right-minded citizen who has a sense of fairness and justice. When looking for marginalised groups mistreated by the police there’s an endless list. There’s the historic racism that seems to continue to plague the establishment. According to research by Liberty black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people and a Home Office report from April 2019 to March 2020 revealed black people are also five times more likely to be a victim of police violence. Whether it’s women mourning a woman murdered by a police officer, LGBTQ+ activists fighting for their human rights or workers who want decent pay and working conditions, it seems the police will always be on hand to offer their violence. Protectors of the state, enemies of the people? Surely this act will only increase police violence, discrimination and abuse of power. The expansion of police powers should make you worry for yourself and everyone around you and we must not tolerate it.

Protection of human rights has never been high on this government’s agenda. Whether it’s the repeal of the Human Rights Act, the Rwanda plan or extradition of Julian Assange, the government has been allowed to get away with so much and the PCSC Act is the most damning of these human rights breaches. They managed to get the PCSC Act passed in May but our fight isn’t over; now they are trying to get the worst elements of that bill passed as the Public Order Bill. Whatever you can do, it could be emailing MPs, signing petitions or resisting out in the streets we must come together and use what we, the majority will always have and they will never: solidarity and people power. We need to defend our own right to freedom of expression and prevent our country from becoming the repressive regime that the Tories believe in.

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