Statement by CIVICUS, published on 6 March 2021, available here.
The use of violence against peaceful protesters in the United Kingdom (UK), who are protesting against the draconian police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, is a major assault on the right to peaceful assembly in the UK and indicative of how peaceful protesters will be treated if this bill is eventually passed into law.
More than 100 protesters were arrested during demonstrations tagged “Kill the Bill” held in London and across 24 other cities and towns in England and Wales on 3 and 4 April 2021. Many of the protesters arrested were accused of “breach of peace,” “violent disorder,” “assault on police” and “breaches of covid legislation.” Protesters were calling for restrictive provisions of the bill to be annulled as they would significantly expand the powers and discretion of the police to deal with peaceful demonstrations and severely restrict freedom of peaceful assembly and other civic freedoms in the UK.
“The authorities in the UK are increasingly resorting to violence to quell peaceful protests and stifle fundamental rights. The proposed police, crime, sentencing and courts bill serves as a warning to the international community that peaceful protests will not be tolerated in the UK in the near future. The violent reprisals against protesters we have witnessed in the last few months are suggestive of how the authorities plan use to bill to deal with future protests.” Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher.
Over the last few years, the UK authorities have increasingly used violence to quell protests. The authorities have used anti-terrorism legislation to target peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters and have labelled climate protesters as “domestic extremists.”
Recent “Kill the Bill” protests in reference to the proposed police, crime, sentencing and courts bill are aimed at raising concerns about the restrictive provisions of the bill and calling on the UK authorities to drop them as they seriously threaten fundamental rights, including the rights to peaceful assembly and expression. The bill significantly increases police powers to deal with non-violent protests and is at variance with the UK’s national and international human rights obligations. The bill went through its second reading in March 2021 and has been proposed at a time when freedom of peaceful assembly is increasingly threatened amid an increase in protests, including recent #ReclaimtheStreets, Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests.