'Sinister and authoritarian': UK Government to restrict right to protest

'Sinister and authoritarian': UK Government to restrict right to protest
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The British Government has proposed a controversial series of measures which would profoundly restrict citizens' ability to engage in peaceful protests in England and Wales, Belga News Agency and the BBC have reported.

Under the new plan, the legal definition of what constitutes a "serious disruption" to public order will be significantly broadened so as to prohibit a wide range of popular protest tactics (e.g. "lock-ons"). In some cases, authorities will even be empowered to shut down protests before they have even begun.

The British Government claims that its proposals will give the police "greater flexibility and clarity" to prevent protesters from using "guerilla" tactics and sowing "chaos".

"We cannot have protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public," said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. "The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but this is not absolute. A balance must be struck between the rights of individuals and the rights of the hard-working majority to go about their day-to-day business."

Sunak's words were echoed by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, who claimed that the police has "not sought any new powers to curtail or constrain protest, but [has] asked for legal clarity about where the balance of rights should be struck".

Suppressing dissent

The Government's proposals immediately provoked loud criticism from activist groups across the UK.

Just Stop Oil described the measures as "a sinister and authoritarian attempt to undermine the basic human rights that underpin our democracy". Liberty, another major campaign group, tweeted that the Government's "plans are a scam to hide the powerful from accountability for their actions".

Former Liberty director and current Labour Party member and life peer in the House of Lords Shami Chakrabarti also condemned the new measures.

"The police already have adequate powers to arrest people and move them on," Chakrabarti told BBC radio. "This, I fear, is about treating all peaceful dissent as effectively terrorism."

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The new measures were introduced as an amendment to the Public Order Bill, which is currently under discussion in the House of Lords. They build on similar legislation (the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act) passed by the British Parliament in April 2022, which was also vehemently denounced by activist groups.

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