Democracy is under attack in the UK.
British police exercised new powers to snuff out protests before the coronation of King Charles III earlier this month, which drew swift scrutiny from those who called the new law, Public Order Act 2023, excessive and an attack on freedoms.
The New York Times reported that British security forces went to extreme lengths to make sure the coronation ran smoothly. The paper said 64 people were arrested, including those that police said were hoping to disrupt the event.
One of the top criticisms of the law is that police are given the power to stop anyone they suspect could be a protester and search for items like digging tools, superglue, and padlocks. Proponents of the law say it allows police to be more “proactive.”
The law came into effect days before the coronation and took aim at peaceful protesters. The Home Office said protesters, for example, who lock themselves to buildings could face a six-month prison sentence and an “unlimited fine,” CNN noted.
Volker Türk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, called the law “deeply troubling” and “incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations.”
He called the law “especially worrying” because it expands the powers of the police to stop and search individuals, including without suspicion and is vague when it defines new criminal offenses.
“The grave risk here is that these orders pre-emptively limit someone’s future legitimate exercise of their rights,” he said.
Leila Choukroune, a professor of international law at the University of Portsmouth, evidently agrees with Türk and told the Times that the legislation is indicative of a growing trend of democracies to limit personal freedoms over the past few decades.
“There is this trend for the past 20 years to legally justify the limitation on human rights, from freedom of movement during the pandemic to the right to protest today,” she told the paper.
Rishi Sunak, the British prime minister, has backed the law and insisted that it can be used as a tool for police to “tackle instances of serious disruption to people’s lives.” He said the decision to arrest individuals under the new law will be up to police.
“We cannot have protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public. It’s not acceptable and we’re going to bring it to an end,” he said.
The bill takes aim at groups like Black Lives Matter, Just Stop Oil, and Extinction Rebellion.
Matt Turnbull, an activist who was arrested, told the paper that officers visited him at his home and apologized for the arrest.
“If you are somebody who is an anti-monarchist, May 6 was the most important day,” he said.
But he said instead of being allowed to peacefully demonstrate, he was handcuffed and tossed in a cell for 14 hours.
“The definition of ‘locking on’ is so broad that the police could detain you for wearing a belt. How do you determine someone’s intention of what they are going to use it for? It’s a very scary thing.”
TRENDPOST: The Trends Journal has reported extensively on how freedoms in the West have eroded in recent years in “Duh-Mock-Racies.” (See “GIVE THE FRENCH PRESIDENT THE FINGER, GET FINED AND GO TO JAIL” 2 May 2023, “GLOBAL FREEDOMS FALL TO RECORD LOWS AMID COVID-19 WAR” 22 Feb 2022, and “WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE GOVERNMENT IN 2023? MORE OF THE SAME” 10 Jan 2023.)
Amnesty International said Britain’s expansion of stop and search powers related to protests is deeply authoritarian.
Yasmine Ahmed, U.K. director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told CNN, “Our right to protest is fundamental, especially at a time when we are in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis, a climate crisis and our public health service is on its knees. Instead of helping people who are below the poverty line—people who are in work, including nurses—the government is wasting time crushing dissent.”