In the UK, the government wants to limit the freedom to demonstrate to crack down on the actions of environmental activists

In the UK, the government wants to limit the freedom to demonstrate to crack down on the actions of environmental activists

Activists put their hands on the pavement during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Parliament Square in London September 3, 2020. Activists put their hands on the pavement during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Parliament Square in London September 3, 2020. FRANK AUGSTEIN/PA

The British Conservative Government introduced an amendment to the Public Order Act on Monday January 16th, reinforcing the already repressive nature of this text, which explicitly seeks to condemn the radical but pacifist actions of environmental activists – Extinction Rebellion (XR ), Just Stop Oil or Insulate – to prevent Britain – which have multiplied the blockades of roads, motorways or bridges in the United Kingdom in recent years.

The text allows police to act pre-emptively and arrest activists before they take action if they have good reason to believe that those people intend to engage in a “lockdown, seriously” or “go slowly.” ‘ to slow traffic. The change was made to the bill, which has already passed the third reading in the House of Commons and is pending in the House of Lords. There is nothing to suggest the latter will embrace it without a blink of an eye: the upper house of western ministers has been less right-wing than the lower house in recent years, particularly on civil liberties issues.

“The right to demonstrate is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but it is not absolute. A balance must be struck between the rights of individuals and the rights of the majority of workers to go about their daily business,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement from Downing Street. Under pressure from the right wing of the Conservative Party, which sees climate activists as dangerous agitators without public support, the UK government is constantly beefing up its legislative arsenal.

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The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, passed in 2022, already introduced a specific offense called “public harassment,” which empowers police to crack down on protesters who make “too much noise,” and penalties for “obstructing roads.” “ (which could go up to imprisonment). Without the government change, the Public Order Law already provides for criminalizing “blockades” and “interference” with vital national infrastructures.

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On the climate change front itself, however, Downing Street is singularly lacking in coherence. Admittedly, the executive regularly reaffirms its commitments (going carbon neutral by 2050, the target is enshrined in law), but in 2022 it confirmed the issuance of around a hundred licenses to exploit hydrocarbons in the North Sea and even authorized the opening of a coal mine in December in Cumbria (North West England).

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