THE UNITED KINGDOM has been added to a watchlist of countries which includes Afghanistan, Belarus, and Nicaragua, due to a rapid decline in fundamental civic freedoms.
The restrictive Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, which gives police further powers to crackdown on protests, coupled with the ongoing violations on protesters, poses a serious threat to civic freedoms in the country, says Civicus, an organisation which monitors openness of civil society around the world.
The new watchlist is released by the Civicus Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 196 countries.
Concerns have been raised by civil society and UN Special Rapporteurs on the UK ‘Policing Bill’ which contains several clauses giving police more powers to restrict the right to protest and will have serious repercussions for minority groups, including Gypsy and Traveller communities, Black people and people of colour.
The bill is currently being reviewed by the House of Lords, after passing in the House of Commons amid massive opposition from civil society and protests calling for #KillTheBill. Civicus says continuous public vilification by the current government of climate protesters as ‘extremists’ has had a further chilling effect on the right to protest.
CIVICUS says several other legislative developments, such as the New Elections bill and amendments to the Human Rights Act, threaten fundamental rights and democratic checks and balances.
Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Research officer for Europe, Civicu.. said: “Policing of protests in the UK has shown a worrying trend. We cannot forget the images of women who were pinned to the ground by police when simply protesting for their own safety during #ReclaimTheStreets protests. Police continue to act with absolute impunity with no consequences for the disproportionate use of force during protests. This coupled with the Policing Bill, poses a serious threat to the fundamental right to peaceful assembly.”
Stephanie Draper, Chief Executive of Bond, a UK network for organisations working in international development, said: “This bill is incompatible with international law and sets a bad precedent internationally. At a time when the right to protest is under attack around the world, the UK should be setting a positive example, rather than making it harder for people to protest,”
The United Kingdom is currently rated as ‘narrowed’ by the Civicus Monitor. There are a total of 40 countries in the world with this rating, which is typically given to countries where democratic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, are increasingly being violated
UK civil rights organisation Liberty has been campaigning against the Policing Bill, which also creates new stop and search powers and a ‘Serious Violence duty’ that health and social care professionals say would breach their professional duty of confidentiality and put young people at risk. Liberty has also warned that the Bill is one part of a larger campaign by the Government to remove itself from accountability and undermine every person’s ability to stand up to power.
Sam Grant, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Liberty said: “The Policing Bill threatens the right to protest for all of us, and puts at greater risk some of the most marginalised communities in the UK. Alongside this, the government’s plan to amend the court system and Human Rights Act will make it harder for all of us to protect our basic rights. In court, in Parliament, and on the streets, this Government is dismantling the tools we use to hold it to account, to protect our rights and stand up to power. People are waking up to this agenda and, as we have seen from growth in Liberty’s support, are coming together to resist this power grab.”
* Read a briefing from LIberty on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill here.
* Read United Kingdom: Civicus Monitor Watchlist. Overview of recent restrictions to civic freedoms here.