Calls on government to rethink protest laws after journalists’ arrests

Activists have called on the government to rethink its plans to change protest laws after journalists covering Just Stop Oil protests were arrested.

Civil liberties groups including Liberty, Big Brother Watch, Amnesty International UK and the National Union of Journalists have written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman expressing concern over the incidents and urging her to ” pause and rethink” the Public Order Bill, which is currently underway. Parliament.

They questioned the Bill’s plans to give more powers to the police to restrict the right to protest and called on the Cabinet Minister to commission an independent review of the new public nuisance offense introduced under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

Hertfordshire Constabulary sparked outrage earlier this week when officers arrested LBC’s Charlotte Lynch on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance as she attempted to report protests causing widespread disruption on the motorway M25.

A day earlier, documentary filmmaker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles were also arrested while trying to capture footage of the activists.

In their letter, the groups said the arrests were “unjustifiable, illegal” and “threaten the freedom of the press”.

He said: “The arrests of journalists this week sadly demonstrate our concern that this power is dangerously stretched and poses a threat to British democracy and respect for fundamental human rights.

“In light of these events, and in the context of the creation of additional police powers to restrict the right to protest, we ask that you commission an independent review of the new public nuisance offense and suspend and reconsider plans. to restrict individuals’ right to freedom of expression through the Public Order Bill, which will disproportionately affect communities where this right is most urgently needed.

Big Brother Watch spokesman Mark Johnson said: “The arrests of journalists by Hertfordshire Police were a gross breach of press freedom in the UK, but these arrests did not happen in the empty.

“Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, the government has created new authoritarian powers which seriously threaten civil liberties in the UK. The arrests directly show the risks of creating sweeping laws that unduly limit democratic activities.

“In light of these events, the government must urgently suspend its Public Order Bill, which will take police powers to restrict protest rights to an unprecedented level in this country.”

Liberty’s Jun Pang claimed the government’s “dangerous assault on the right to protest” is enabling the arrest of members of the press, adding, “The public order bill will have a chilling effect on the right to demonstrate, criminalizing anyone who tries to be heard.

“The arrests we have seen this week show that we are going in the wrong direction. In a functioning democracy, everyone must be able to challenge power.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary has made it clear we need to do more to protect the rights of the law-abiding majority to go about their business.

“Not only are the severe disruptions we have experienced recently extremely dangerous for everyone involved, but they are costing taxpayers millions and draining police resources.

“The police need, and have asked for, increased powers to deal with this rise in guerrilla tactics. This is exactly what the Public Order Bill will do and it will also help protect freedom of the press – previously protesters have tried to shut down printing presses which is completely unacceptable.