We should all be terrified at the authoritarian removal of our international human right to peaceful protest. You can now be arrested in the UK, just as in Russia, for merely holding a placard – or even being suspected of even thinking about doing so. Indeed, earlier this year, 10 Downing street said that the bill would mean that “police will not need to wait for disruption to take place and can shut protests down before chaos erupts.” This, indeed, is vague enough to include everything – and exclude nothing. How are people to know where they stand?
But the draconian Public Order Bill was rushed through and given royal assent before the coronation, and became law on 2 May 2023. A date to remember – and recoil against.
Restricting protest at whim
The act contains additional powers for the police to restrict peaceful process – apparently at whim – rather than facilitating it. The rights given to the police mean that it’s not going to be possible to know if you are going to be arrested or not when you protest – or individual officers suspect that you may be about to do so – as the treatment of the Republic group shows; despite their pre- coronation negotiations with the metropolitan police, and all apparently in order to go ahead with peaceful protest during the coronation, the police arrested Republic’s key organiser even before the ceremony had begun.
Criticism of the arrests
Opposition and criticism of the bill, and its execution during the coronation is widespread and notable; Volker Turk, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, states that the new bill “imposes serious and undue restrictions” on the right to protest peacefully; Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, condemned the coronation arrests, stating that “the reports of people being arrested for peacefully protesting….is something you would expect to see in Moscow, not London,” and Sacha Desmukh, the CEO of Amnesty International in the UK, is quoted saying that:
“peaceful protest is clearly protected under international human rights law…the coronation shouldn’t become yet another excuse for undermining people’s basic human rights in this country…”
The Westminster government rightly criticises countries such as Russia, China, Belarus for their lack of tolerance towards peaceful protest. They perhaps need to practise a little more of what they preach: our right to protest must be re-instated and forever protected, if not by this government, by whoever comes into power after the next election. Otherwise, how can the UK seriously call itself a democracy?