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Anti-protest bill won't stop direct action, say peace activists

Houses of Parliament

Anti-protest bill won't stop direct action, say peace activists

British pacifists have said that repressive measures proposed in the Queen's Speech won't stop people taking direct action.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) is one of many organisations to condemn proposals in the Queen’s Speech for a new Public Order Bill that will introduce draconian punishments for peaceful activism.

The Queen’s Speech sets out the UK government’s legislative programme for the year ahead.

The PPU has always included people who take nonviolent direct action to resist war, militarism and the arms trade. There are also many PPU members who campaign in other ways, including through lawful demonstrations, lobbying politicians, running street stalls and promoting campaigns in the media and online.

Freedom to protest in the UK was severely restricasted earlier this month when the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act passed into law. It gives the police power to close down protests they deem to be too noisy and also restricts the rights of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

But the House of Lords threw out some of the harshest measures contained in an earlier version of that bill – and now ministers are trying to bring them back again, through the proposed new Public Order Bill.

The bill will allow a year’s imprisonment for someone who “locks on” – that is to say, chains or glues themselves to something or someone in an attempt to impede an activity deemed morally wrong.

In recent months the tactic has been associated with environmental activism, although it has been used by a wide variety of campaigners for decades.

Peace activists often “lock-on” to disrupt events such as arms fairs.

"The government have simply not understood people who take nonviolent  direct action if they think we will be stopped by the threats proposed in the Public Order Bill,” said Symon Hill, PPU Campaigns Manager.

He explained, “Like many others, we will resist the introduction of the bill, but if it is passed, it won't stop us taking nonviolent direct action. Members of the Peace Pledge Union have been engaging in direct action against war, militarism and the arms trade for decades, and will continue to do so.”

The PPU described the Public Order Bill as an example of everyday militarism - a process whereby militaristic atttiudes are introduced into more and more areas of civliian life.

The proposals were condemned by a wide range of civil liberties and human rights groups.

Kevin Blowe of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) said the bill would lead to “relentless harrassment” of campaigners by the police.

Sam Grant of Liberty said, “This is all part of the government’s continued attempts to rewrite the rules so only they can win, and prevent ordinary people from having their say.”

Critics of the proposed new bill include MPs from several parties.

Green MP Caroline Lucas nicknamed the Public Order Bill the “Public Oppression Bill”. Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said, “Instead of taking action to address injustices like racism and climate breakdown, they want to stop people sounding the alarm.”

The PPU also joined many other groups in criticising plans in the Queen’s Speech to scrap the Human Rights Act and to ban public bodies from engaging in certain types of boycotts. The PPU described boycotts as “a basic tool of peaceful political action”.

Measures in the Queen’s Speech that still remain vague include the Northern Ireland Troubles (Reconciliation and Legacy) Bill. There have been suggestions that it will make it even less likely that ex-soldiers could be prosecuted for crimes committed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The PPU – which consistently opposed all violence from all sides during the Troubles – said that reconciliation is a painful and difficult process and that the bill should not be used to put anyone above the law.


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