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'You Have The Right To Remain Silent': Protest In The UK Set To Become A Crime

Why The Public Order Bill Needs To Be Resisted To Protect Our Basic Democratic Freedoms

The unlawful killing of George Floyd, a Black man in May 2020 in the United States, ignited people the world over and saw the rise in protest-led organisations, most notably, the Black Lives Matter movement, taking to the streets to demonstrate against racial injustice. In the UK, demonstrations that began shortly after, led to the toppling of a statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader who benefited from buying and selling individuals from Africa.

In recent months, environmental issues have come to the top of the agenda and a momentum for social change in the UK can said to have been reignited and a resurgence of protest groups have emerged such as Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Stop the Oil with the aim to put pressure on us all to reduce the rate of climate change. The modus operandi of such groups is to use 'non-violent civil disobedience' to affect change.

However, the methods adopted by these groups has divided public opinion with many claiming they cause unnecessary disruption to the country's transport system, costing the economy millions. In response, the UK government have resorted to a reactionary knee-jerk response and have proposed some of the most Draconian laws introduced since the Second World War to prevent similar protests.

So, what has been happening?

The Public Order Bill, in reality, is an amendment to the Police, Crime and Sentencing and Courts Bill that was resoundingly rejected by the Upper Chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords by 261 votes to 166. They are said to have turned this down because of its anti-democratic sentiments.

in the meantime, there have already been a number of protesters imprisoned for their participation in demonstrations for a number of offences, including criminal damage, causing danger to road users, wilful obstruction of the highway and of causing public nuisance.

The Public Order Bill. What is it?

The government has proposed the Public Order Bill, giving more power to police, preventing people carrying equipment to 'lock-on', allowing for increased stop and search powers, as well as introducing an Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (SDPOs) to those who repeatedly breach these restrictions.

It is essential to look deeper into these Draconian measures to understand why these proposals need to be prevented from being passed into law.

The criminalisation of going equip to 'locking-on', a term used to describe. the method of sticking or chaining oneself to key infrastructure to cause maximum disruption, is perhaps the most disturbing of the proposed measures. What this does it criminalises innocent people who can be arrested on the streets of the UK for carrying items such as a bicycle chain under the suspicion of 'going equip' for protest that is seen as 'too disruptive' to society.

Those who are equally as appalled at these new measures, have highlighted that individuals can be arrested for simply going about their daily life. If you are put before the judicial system and are found guilty of this so-called offence, you may face a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine. Notwithstanding, a risk of up to six months imprisonment! Human rights groups have said this bill 'fundamentally threatens' UK democracy.

The importance of protest

Protest is vital for a healthy democracy. It provides marginalised groups a voice and a chance to be heard.

Where would the world be in the 21st century if people hadn't sometimes taken to the streets in previous centuries - Shami Chakrabarti, Labour Member of Parliament (MP)

It's time to lobby your Member of Parliament

There is some attempt at resistance against the Bill by organisations such as the Centre for Sustainability, Equality and Climate Action (SECA), which in July 2022 held a workshop to discuss the 'planetary emergency and politics of resistance'. There are also more plans by protest group, Extinction Rebellion in Nottingham, to not only protest against climate change, but to continue fighting for our democratic freedoms.

To protect our fundamental democratic right to protest, we must take action - Author

One way you could do this is to lobby your local Member of Parliament (MP). This can be as simple as writing a letter to them asking them what they are going to do, and how they are going to vote in response to the Bill. You could ask how they must look at preventing the Bill being passed through Parliament.

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