Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An authoritarian kneejerk

Over the weekend, 250,000 people marched against cuts in London. A small number of them engaged in violence (though its worth noting that of the 149 people charged, only 11 are accused of violent disorder; the other 94% were arrested after a peaceful sit-in). The government's response? Threaten to ban "troublemakers" from going to protests.

This contravenes the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression in the European Convention on Human Rights (and translated into UK law by the Human Rights Act). While those freedoms can be limited to protect public order, the barrier to do so is very high. In order to pre-emptively ban expressly political speech, as is being considered here, the police would have to have cast-iron evidence of violent intent. In which case, they can already support a conspiracy charge, and do not need this sort of political control order.

So why is the government pushing this scheme? Because they regard anyone who protests against the unjust status quo as a "troublemaker" who needs to be silenced. They are pushing this scheme precisely because they do not accept our right to protest. And that is not acceptable in a democracy.