GLOBAL YARD The disputed right to protest in the UK


GLOBAL YARD The disputed right to protest in the UK

WHO. Civicus Monitor has downgraded the UK in its annual civil rights index, equating it with Hungary and Poland. THAT. The organization denounces the "growing authoritarianism" of its laws and the "hostile environment" towards activists. BECAUSE. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and the Public Order Act were pushed by Boris Johnson to restrict protests.

"No human being is illegal" was the slogan with which thousands of Britons took to the streets over the weekend in protest against the Immigration Law. "Kill the Bill" was the slogan used a year ago in another chain of demonstrations demanding neither more nor less than "the right to protest."

The Law on Police, Crimes, Convictions and Courts, promoted by the then "premier" Boris Johnson, nevertheless marked the beginning of a severe reduction in freedom of assembly and expression. The controversial law has been used to stem the tide of climate change "crusties" and months later to arrest anti-monarchist protesters following the death of Elizabeth II.

The Public Order Law now intends to give a new twist drastically limiting the actions that can cause "disruption" to the public, with sentences of six months in prison for chaining or "sticking" to a building, a pole or the road to cut traffic on bridges, highways or infrastructure. The law, currently pending, has been criticized as the most restrictive in Western democracies.

For these and other reasons, the Civicus Monitor has just downgraded the UK's rating in its global civil rights index to bring it in line with countries such as Hungary and Poland. The international organization has denounced "the growing authoritarianism" and "the hostile environment" towards non-governmental organizations and representatives of civil society.

The Civicus Monitor ranking divides nations into five groups: "open," "restricted," "obstructed," "repressive," or "closed." The United Kingdom has gone from the second category (where countries like Spain or France are) to the third division, rubbing shoulders with Morocco or South Africa.

The "retreat" initiated by Johnson and his controversial Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has even been amplified by Rishi Sunak and the even more controversial Suella Braverman, the same one who dismissed the climate protesters as "tofu eaters" and who has promised to take the Law of Public Order to the last consequences.

In his subtle way, Sunak has recalled that the right to protest "is not absolute" and has thus defended the actions to keep activists at bay: . "We cannot allow a small minority to cause a disruption in the lives of ordinary people, this is not acceptable and it will stop."

More than a thousand activists have been arrested and at least 100 have been jailed in the last year, mainly in actions by Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil, vilified as "eco-vandals" by the conservative press. One hundred writers, artists and actors - from Simon Schama to Biran Eno or Emma Thompson - wrote a letter of solidarity to the thirteen who were still imprisoned at the beginning of the year: "The United Kingdom now has its own political prisoners"...

Amnesty International raised the alarm last fall about "the threat against the right to protest" contained in the controversial law. "Parties cannot rely on a vague definition of public order to justify restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly," warned AI UK executive director Sacha Deshmukh.

"Is the United Kingdom turning its back on democracy?" asks the Human Rights Watch association openly in one of its "daily dispatches." "The Public Order Act aims to turn protesters into criminals, with measures such as 'serious disruption prevention orders', which can ban anyone who has been previously detained from participating in protests or face up to 51 weeks in jail." .

The Global Witness association, which denounces attacks on environmental activists around the world, has joined the protests against British laws that "intend that protesters are perceived as enemies of the state instead of facilitators of a more participatory democracy". .

The plans to restrict the right to strike, the new "Bill of Rights" that aims to reduce or eliminate the influence of the European Court of Human Rights or the new Immigration Law - denounced by the UNHCR as a "denial of the right to asylum "- have also contributed in their own way to the "lowering" of the international perception of the United Kingdom.

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