The UN’s Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai is visiting the UK next week. We assess what has changed in relation to the freedom to take part in protests – and what issues remain a concern – since his last official visit three years ago.
Netpol was one of a number of groups who met Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, when he last visited the UK in January 2013. His report on that visit was published in June 2013 [, 588 kB].
Next week we are meeting him again. Here are some issues we think he should consider – and a reminder of how in a number of important respects, little has changed since his last report. Read more
Westfield mass arrests the result of ‘police obsession with intelligence-gathering about political protest’
The arrest on 10 December at Westfield London of seventy six people taking part in a solidarity action against police violence is the latest in a series of mass arrests that, on this occasion, was apparently motived by the incursion of protest into ‘corporate space’. However, the police tactic of arresting large numbers of people to gather intelligence on protesters, deliberately disrupt protest and ‘punish’ those who take part in them has been a growing concern for Netpol since 2012.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered in support of demonstrations in the US, called after the failure to prosecute the New York police officer who had choked Eric Garner to death during his arrest for unlawfully selling cigarettes. The decision to take the protest to a mall was understandable: the point of protesting is to get noticed by the public and at this time of year, there are few places as ‘public’ or as noticeable as Westfield’s vast White City shopping centre. Activists in the US had adopted a similar approach, with Ferguson protests deliberately targeting shopping centres on ‘Black Friday’. The point, one of them stated, was “to let the world know it is no longer ‘business as usual’”. Read more
The arrest of 286 antifascists demonstrating against the presence of the English Defence League in East London on Saturday is another example of what seems to be a growing trend in public order policing – the mass arrest of people participating in unauthorised marches, rallies and processions.
The tactic of mass arrest is highly indiscriminate – no consideration is made of whether the individuals concerned are truly suspected of any offence. Netpol observers spoke to a boxing coach in East London yesterday, who had tried desperately to get police officers to realise that one of the people they had contained had simply been en route to his gym, which was round the corner from the police kettle. No-one seemed willing to listen to him. Read more
On Friday 27th July, 182 cyclists were arrested by the Metropolitan police for straying too close to the Olympic venue. Netpol have been given a number of eye-witness accounts from participants in the Critical Mass which tell a highly disturbing story.
Those arrested were forced to tolerate poor conditions of detention, with some spending the entire night detained on a bus at Charing Cross, waiting to be booked into custody, without adequate access to water or toilet facilities. Some people were forced to spend an excessive amount of time in handcuffs, and access to legal representation and advice was patchy. All have also been subject to highly restrictive bail conditions, which in some cases have left people unable to work without breaching the conditions of their bail. Some have had to face a significant struggle to reclaim their own cycles.
But even more disturbing perhaps, was the disturbing ease by which the Metropolitan Police have felt able to carry out a strategy of mass arrest against a group of people whose primary offence appears to have been the act of cycling into East London. Read more
Last night, as the Olympic Games Opening ceremony began, police arrested over 130 cyclists for cycling near Stratford. The cyclists were part of Critical Mass – a group who do regular cycle rides through London on the last Friday of the month and have done so for years.
The riders were stopped, kettled and arrested under Section 12 of the Public Order Act. Some arrests were extremely violent. British Transport Police officer 4125 was filmed by multiple sources hitting both a male and female cyclist. When a disabled man tried to stop him, the disabled man was reportedly sprayed with either CS or pepperspray. A police medic is seen also hitting crowds.
A detailed new report launched today by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) highlights how promises made by the police to ‘adapt to protest’ after 2009’s G20 demonstrations in London have been forgotten in a remarkably short space of time and a far more intolerant ‘total policing’ style response to protesters has developed in the UK.
The report, which covers a fourteen month period from late 2010 to the end of 2011, paints a bleak picture of the state of the freedom to protest in the UK. It documents how the tactic of containment known as ‘kettling’, the use of solid steel barriers to restrict the movement of protesters, the intrusive and excessive use of stop & search and data gathering, and the pre-emptive arrests of people who have committed no crime, have combined to enable an effective clamp-down on almost all forms of popular street-level dissent. Read more