Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

Imagine it’s January 30, 1969, and you walk to Apple Corps headquarters on London’s famous Saville Drive. Suddenly you hear something stop you on your way – The Beatles play a live set on the roof of the building. For you, a Beatles fan, this is an unexpected but very welcome gift. But you can see many shopkeepers clearly irritated by the crowds crowding the streets and roofs of nearby buildings.

Despite grumbling by some who see the music as nothing more than noise and an unwelcome disruption to a busy workday – perhaps even an act of defiance by music fans – The Beatles continues to play. Eventually, police officers climbed onto the roof and ordered the group to stop playing. But the intervention comes about 45 minutes after the start of the unauthorized action. History has already been made. And no one expects anyone, neither the group nor the audience, to face any further consequences for attending the concert or event “illegally” in central London. Everyone goes on with their day as if nothing had happened.

Now imagine that the same concert will take place in the near future, just after the adoption of Boris Johnson’s government bill on police, crime, sentencing and courts, which is currently being discussed in the House of Lords. With the new powers – and trust – they have gained through the bill, buyers rush to the roof of the building, stop the show suddenly and arrest everyone there. Some of the people who “illegally” gathered on the street are also arrested. Those in custody, including The Beatles themselves, are looking at possible months to spend behind bars.

It’s not just a gloomy fantasy. The bill on police, crime, sentencing and courts, if passed in its current form, would give police powers that could lead to such Orwellian scenarios. Indeed, under the new bill, those deemed to be causing a public nuisance – by making too much noise, blocking streets and store fronts, or “annoying” the public in general – find themselves behind bars.

Of course, the main purpose of this bill is not to stop surprise actions by beloved British bands – its purpose is to stifle the British people’s right to protest.

The new legislation proposes to give the police new powers to engage in any non-violent public assembly that may have a “relevant impact on persons in the area” or which “may lead to serious disruption of the activities of a organization that is in the vicinity of the meeting. ”It can be used to end almost any peaceful protest, including peaceful vigilance. The new police powers will also include setting conditions over the duration of protests, maximum noise levels and locations. everything will undoubtedly have a cooling effect on the British people’s freedom to assemble peacefully and thus participate in democracy.

On top of that, Home Secretary Priti Patel managed to add 18 pages of amendments to the already illiberal bill after it was passed by the Commons. The new version of the bill makes the obstruction of major transport works a new criminal offense. It also expands forces to stop and search without suspicion around protests. This means the police will have the power to stop and search individuals if they think it can avoid “serious disruption” or a “public nuisance”. This can happen “regardless of whether the constable has any reason to suspect that the person … is carrying a prohibited object or not”.

Another amendment gives authorities the power, through “serious disruption prevention orders” or SDPOs, to prohibit said individuals from participating in protests or even using the internet to encourage others to do so. An SDPO can be imposed by the courts on anyone convicted of a “protest-related crime”. This category is extremely wide – it includes “offenses” such as possession of super glue near a demonstration.

The bill also proposes to introduce new laws against stopping on private and public land without authorization, with fines that include confiscation of vehicles. This would have the effect of criminalizing the way of life of Gypsies, Roma and Travelers. As the Guardian explained in a recent editorial, such extreme restrictions placed on nomadic lifestyles can “incite prejudice against communities and individuals who are already facing serious disadvantages”.

If this bill becomes law later this month as expected, British democracy will suffer a blow that has been unprecedented in recent history. At the end of this road lurks a crime prevention philosophy reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s dystopian movie, Minority Report.

Patel has managed to take this draconian bill to this point by taking advantage of the widespread backlash against disruptive protest actions by the environmental group, Insulate Britain.

Since the group’s inception in 2019, Insulate Britain activists have blocked major highways and disrupted public transportation to make their voices heard. Their protests angered a significant majority of the British public. Opinion polls conducted by YouGov in October 2021 found that 72 percent of participants were against the protesters’ actions.

It is understandable that in an automated society, many are angered by, and even considered a threat, protests that disrupt their daily activities. It is also true that people in general do not ever want to feel as if they have been caught in a tug of war between protesters and the authorities. They do not want their daily lives to be affected in any way by protests that may or may not support them.

However, this new proposed legislation does not really aim to protect the public from the extravagances of protesters. This bill merely gives the government significant powers to restrict the freedoms – and in particular the freedom to protest – of citizens at will.

In a case of Jungian synchronicity, the first appearance of the bill in Parliament coincided with the shameful police response to the vigilance for Sarah Everard – the 33-year-old Londoner who was abducted and killed by a police officer on March 4. On March 13, police officers assaulted and forcibly arrested women who had peacefully participated in an “illegal” guard for Everard in Clapham Common. On the same day, British MPs discussed a bill that would give further powers to the police to seize such vigilance. In many ways, what happened that day was an ominous dress rehearsal for what was to come under the new bill.

Since the end of the 30-year period of economic growth and democratic gains experienced in the West between 1945 and 1975 – a period introduced by the French economist Jean Fourastie “the Glorious Thirty” – democracy in the Western world has flourished. sharply deteriorated. .

During this time, Western governments began to move rapidly away from supporting active democracy, creating tacit conditions for citizens to participate only passively in democracy. Eventually, popular participation in government was reduced to casting a vote for one of a few pre-selected candidates every four or five years. The message sent to the citizens was that, after casting their vote, they should just stand aside and let elected officials do their job.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is nothing more than an extension of this sentiment. It clearly says to the British public: after you have cast your vote, do not dare to interfere with the actions of those in power. But this is not democracy. The public must always uphold the right to set the course of their governments through protests in democratic countries.

The UK has a long and successful history of disruptive protests. For example, British protesters – using the same tactics that the Johnson government is now trying to ban – persuaded then-Prime Minister John Major to abandon the senseless and environmentally destructive road construction program that began in the early 1990s.

Aside from a handful of seasoned activists and specialized campaign groups, a few dissenting voices on the left, and the Guardian newspaper expressing its opposition to the bill in a recent editorial, the bill is moving to become legislation without much resistance.

This is unacceptable. The Johnson government, led by the far-right Home Secretary Patel, is quietly but surely taking away the British people’s right to protest peacefully and set the course of his government. As the British civil rights group Liberty explained, this bill will “affect us all, with the dismantling of heavy-handed and deeply cherished rights to assemble freely and speak out against opponents”.

Britons need to wake up and resist the onslaught on their rights and freedoms before it is too late. If they do not act now and do everything in their power to stop this bill, they may have serious consequences in the near future for speaking out against their government – or simply daring to disregard it in any small way.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.

Source link

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *