Defend The Right to Protest Statement

Defend the Right to Protest expresses its opposition to the major assault on basic norms of justice and threats of increased police powers that have followed the recent riots.  These include all night court sessions, the refusal of bail in 70% of cases compared the normal 10%, the lifting of anonymity for minors and exemplary sentencing -with prison terms of 16 months handed down for the theft of an ice cream and 4 years for setting up face book events.

Such is the scale of attack that the president of the Prison Governors Association Eoin McLennon-Murray has noted “a sentencing frenzy..and speedy across the board justice probably means a number of people are dealt with unfairly.”

It is an attack that has been encouraged by hysterical calls by politicians for retribution and increases in police and governmental powers. Suggestions include blanket curfews, censoring of social media, and the use water canon and plastic bullets. It is against this backdrop that Theresa May has introduced an unprecedented 30 day ban on all marches in 6 London boroughs.

These attacks not only deny basic rights to those accused of committing offences during the riots, many of whom are very young and poor. They are also a threat to all of our civil liberties and our future right to protest.

Already we have seen punitive sentencing meted out to protesters including Francis Fenrnie, a 20 year old student, now serving one year in prison for allegedly throwing two placards sticks during a TUC demonstration and targeting of activists, such as the UK Uncutters due to go on trial for “aggravated trespass” following a peaceful occupation of Fortnum and Masons. The current suspension of the normal rules of justice can only escalate these attacks with serious consequences for those arrested on previous student and anti-cuts protests now awaiting trial.

The response of the authorities to the riots – increasing repression rather than engaging with the social underpinnings -is a dead end that can only exacerbate the situation. We should not forget that the riot in Tottenham followed the police response to a peaceful demonstration in response to the death of Mark Duggan. This follows a pattern of rising police violence on demonstrations which saw Jody McIntyre dragged from his wheelchair and Alfie Meadows sustain life threatening injuries during a student fees demonstration as well as the death of Ian Tomlinson after being hit by a police officer on the G20 protests.

We therefore pledge to campaign against this escalating assault on our civil liberties and right to protest. This to include support for those defence campaigns being launched to secure justice for those arrested during the riots.