Christian Aid highlights threats to peaceful protest in Britain

By staff writers
April 17, 2009

Civil liberty concerns about mass arrests over a recent power station protest in the UK have been echoed by Christian Aid director Daleep Mukarji, in a letter to the Guardian newspaper.

The head of the UK-based international development agency said that the experience of the biggest pre-emptive raid on environmental campaigners in British history, when 114 people believed to be planning direct action at a coal-fired power station near Nottingham were arrested last week, chimed with Christian Aid's experience at a peaceful protest in March 2009, against plans for a new power station.

Concerns have also been expressed about the policing of protesters at the G20 summit in London. An officer has been suspended for an apparent assault on a woman demonstrator, an investigation is under way over the death of a bystander who had earlier been pushed to the ground in a violent and unprovoked manner by an officer and complaints have been made about 'kettling' - a technique which locks protesters into a cordon for hours with no water, medical facilities or freedom of movement.

Civil liberties campaigners say that the state is using increasingly coercive tactics against nonviolent protest.

In his Guardian letter yesterday (16 April 2009), Christian Aid director Daleep Mukarji cited the NGO's Climate Day of Action, which included a visit to E.ON's Coventry headquarters fo the purpose of expressing opposition to its plan to build a coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent.

He commented: "We consulted West Midlands police in advance and complied with all their requirements, including a demand that only up to 250 people might gather at any one time.

"When we arrived at E.ON, we were alarmed to be greeted by a police officer using a video camera to film every single person taking part in our protest. This was intimidating and offensive, because it suggested that merely by taking part in the wholly peaceful, lawful event, we were doing something wrong. The police officers present offered no explanation of why we were being filmed. Nor did they tell us whether - and for how long - they would retain the film."

Dr Mukarji wrote: "We regard peaceful protest as an important way for the public to express their concerns and press for change. Intimidating police tactics must not be allowed to erode people's right to protest."

He concluded: "Politicians often complain of the corrosive effect of cynicism on civic society. The danger is that by using surveillance to frustrate a minority, the police deter a huge, moderate coalition of people from peaceful civic participation. This in turn could deprive Brown and Obama of the show of public support that they need to drive through much-needed reforms on climate change and the financial system."

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