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Members of the climate activists group Just Stop Oil blockade a petrol station on the M25 on 28th of April 2022, London, United Kingdom. The activist group demands the UK government takes the climate crisis serious and stop all futher oil exploration. The 14 activists super glued themselves to petrol pumps and the road to the entrance of the BP petrol station in Clacket Lane Services M25 Eastbound. Police attended the scene and the station was taken out of service. (Photo: Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Climate Activists Slam UK Government's Latest Attempt to Silence Them

Civil rights groups accused the government of silencing people with anti-protest measures like those used in Russia.

New laws designed to crack down on protesters will not deter environmental activists from taking action, campaign groups have warned the UK government.

"Despite government claims to the contrary, these are draconian laws that are part of a wider assault on our democracy."

Protesters in England and Wales could face jail sentences and unlimited fines for blocking national infrastructure, such as airports or railways, or 'locking on' to buildings, as part of legislation announced in the Queen's Speech on Tuesday.

The measures have resurfaced in a Public Order Bill, after being dropped from the government's controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, when they were rejected by the House of Lords.

They were initially intended to target groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil, who have blocked motorways and oil refineries during protests.

But a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil told openDemocracy that the group will continue protesting even if the legislation is passed.

"Changes to protest law are irrelevant when set against the criminal actions of our current government, this will not stop future disruptive action taking place," they said.

"The government should stop locking up ordinary people and take the no-brainer decision to end new oil and gas."

Civil liberty groups also criticised the plans, saying that they would limit the right to peaceful protest.

"These rehashed measures to crack down on protest in today's Queen's Speech are yet another power grab from a government determined to shut down accountability.

"Protest is a right, not a gift from the state—and measures like these are designed to stop ordinary people making their voices heard," said Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty.

Amnesty International UK's CEO Sacha Deshmukh compared the plans to the "repressive policies" used in "Russia, Hong Kong and Belarus", which have been criticised by the UK government.

"It follows a pattern of a government voicing support for protest around the world but cracking down on the right to speak up here at home," he said.

'An assault on our democracy'

The Public Order Bill will include new criminal offences of locking on and being equipped to lock on to others, objects or buildings. These carry a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

It will also expand stop and search powers to allow police to seize articles related to locking on.

There will also be new offences for interfering with key national infrastructure, such as airports, railways or major transport works like HS2, which will also carry a maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

The bill will also introduce 'serious disruption prevention orders', banning individuals with previous protest-related offences from attending further protests or from being involved in organising them.   

Responding to the news, Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now, said: "The real hooligans here are not protesters desperately trying to preserve life on this planet, but [Boris] Johnson's government, which is running riot over our hard-won democratic freedoms."

The government first attempted to introduce the measures as amendments to its Policing Bill, after home secretary Priti Patel announced plans to criminalise protest tactics used by climate groups at the Conservative Party conference last October. 

But in January, the amendments were rejected by peers, who described them as "menacing and dangerous". 

"Despite government claims to the contrary, these are draconian laws that are part of a wider assault on our democracy," Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, a Green party peer, said at the time.


This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence.
adam

Adam Bychawski

Adam Bychawski is a reporter at openDemocracy.

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Anita Mureithi

Anita Mureithi is an editorial assistant at openDemocracy. She tweets @anitaxviii

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