By Ali Karbalaei

UN alarmed over UK’s ban on “peaceful protests”

April 28, 2023 - 19:17

TEHRAN- A new bill passed on Wednesday by the British parliament grants the police the power to crack down on peaceful protests in violation of human rights.

Critics argue the vague bill dubbed "The Public Order Bill” is aimed at stopping the activities of activists, anti-government protests and even end street rallies in support of the oppressed Palestinians, such as the annual international Quds Day.

Critics argue the vague bill dubbed "The Public Order Bill”, passed by parliament on Wednesday, is aimed at stopping the activities of activists, anti-government protests and even end street rallies in support of the oppressed Palestinians, such as the annual international Quds Day.

Peaceful protests can now be prevented from going ahead by the police if they are considered to be too noisy. Opponents are now asking the authorities what protests they deem too noisy. That is how vague the new legislation is.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that the new law “regrettably weakens human rights obligations” which the UK has an obligation to abide by under international law.

The legislation has been described as "deeply troubling" and that it imposes restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly that are "neither necessary nor proportionate".

While the UK has been imposing sanctions on countries whose police have been murdered amid riots and terrorism, Downing Street claims the sanctions have been slapped for crackdown on “peaceful protests”. This is while the British government is attempting to ban protests on its own territory that are totally peaceful in nature and pose no risk to the UK police or Britain's security.

“The passage of this Bill regrettably weakens the UK’s human rights obligations,” the UN Human Rights chief says.

Once again, critics say the self-proclaimed flag bearers of human rights are using “human rights” to advance their political agendas abroad, while stamping all over the human rights of their own citizens back at home. 

The Conservative government has claimed that the "The Public Order Bill” will provide police with new powers which again the Conservative government claims are needed to prevent what Downing Street alleges is a small minority, who have been protesting mainly over environmental issues, disrupting the lives of the wider public.

This is despite research showing the wider British public support protests in favor of environmental issues. And this is a bill that has been going through parliament for around a year now, so it raises major question marks over the government narrative that the legislation is aimed at dealing with those “who have been protesting mainly over environmental issues, disrupting the lives of the wider public.”

Rights groups say the police already have sufficient power to manage protests safely and to prevent violence from erupting or any other serious criminal activity.

Opponents of the new legislation say it will offer sweeping powers for the police to silence and curb the voice of human rights advocates, ban street protests along with many other issues that Britain wants to root out but cannot find a lawful route of doing so.
Rights groups have slammed the "The Public Order Bill”, saying it will also take racism and over-policing of marginalized groups in the UK to an even higher level than it stands at the moment.

British police have long targeted Black people or Muslims by randomly stopping them in public and searching them, despite heavy criticism of how counterproductive and how widely misused the measure has been. 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has described the measure as a “deeply troubling legislation”, calling on the UK government to back track and reverse the law “as soon as feasible”.

Türk stressed that the law’s apparent targeting of “those protesting about human rights” was particularly concerning.

The UN rights chief even denounced the government’s claim that the legislation is mainly aimed at environmental activists, pointing out that “as the world faces the triple planetary crises of climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution, governments should be protecting and facilitating peaceful protests on such existential topics, not hindering and blocking them.”

The Public Order Act introduces “Serious Disruption Prevention Orders” which, according to the UN rights chief’s office, have the potential to significantly limit the freedoms of protesters. It allows courts to ban individuals from being in certain places at certain times, being with particular people, or even to limit the way they use the internet.

On the basis of the new law, activists could be electronically monitored to ensure compliance with their charges, even if they have never been convicted of any criminal offence.

“It is especially worrying that the law expands the powers of the police to stop and search individuals, including without suspicion; defines some of the new criminal offences in a vague and overly broad manner; and imposes unnecessary and disproportionate criminal sanctions on people organizing or taking part in peaceful protests,” Türk stated.

He insisted that the law was “wholly unnecessary”, given the UK police’s existing powers to act against violent demonstrations. He also criticized the criminalization of protests linked to the new legislation.

Türk said that governments needed to facilitate peaceful protests while “protecting the public from serious and sustained disruption”, but that the Public Order Act could “pre-emptively limit someone’s future legitimate exercise of their rights”.

He also said that the UK police already have the powers to act against violent and disruptive demonstrations during his appeal to London on reversing the controversial legislation.

 “Governments are obliged to facilitate peaceful protests, while, of course, protecting the public from serious and sustained disruption. But the grave risk here is that these orders pre-emptively limit someone’s future legitimate exercise of their rights,” the High Commissioner said.

This also comes at a time when there seems to be no end in sight to mass protests in the UK, in so many sectors, against record inflation as a result of the Ukraine war triggered by the U.S.-led NATO military alliance against Russia.

A war that European governments sleepwalked into at the expense of the Ukrainian people as well as their own households, while the Western military industrial complex cannot keep up with counting the profits of arms exports.

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