'The idea that preventing others going about their business should be a reason to prevent peaceful protest is a way of neutering dissent.'
Quakers joined more than 150 groups to object to a government bill they say is being rushed through parliament and will hand police ‘draconian powers’ over people’s right to protest.
‘The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill threatens the #RightToProtest and criminalises the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities. The UK government needs to fundamentally rethink its approach,’ the Quakers in Britain account tweeted, on 16 March, the day the second reading passed in the House of Commons.
The bill will limit the right to protest by applying existing rules for marches to ‘static’ gatherings.
In a letter to the home secretary and the secretary of state for justice, the group says that the government is ‘trying to rush this Bill through parliament, with less than a week between publication and second reading’.
The bill has been criticised by campaign groups for giving stronger police powers to break up ‘unauthorised encampments’, ‘longer’ sentences for people convicted of serious crimes, and setting ‘maximum noise limits’.
Writing on the Quakers in Britain website on 12 March, Oliver Robertson, head of witness and worship at Britain Yearly Meeting, said: ‘The intention is to restrict “highly disruptive protests causing serious disruption to the public”. What counts as “serious disruption”? We’ll find out later – the Bill allows the Home Secretary to define this once the legislation is passed… The idea that preventing others going about their business should be a reason to prevent peaceful protest is a way of neutering dissent. If a protest is not causing anyone problems, then it can essentially be ignored.’
Friends are also encouraging each other to support a new Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights drawn up by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), which guarantees the right to protest (https://netpol.org/charter).
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