A Crackdown on Democracy: UK's New Bill Suppresses Free Speech
The United Kingdom's new Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill is one of the many recent proposals to penalize, suppress, and control collective action.
For a government that claims to be democratic, the new law passed for England Wales starkly aims to suppress one of the most civil forms of political expression - protests.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill penalizes, suppresses, and controls collective action. The bill can penalize anyone doing as little as voicing their grievances over a megaphone with a fine just for being "too noisy".
The bill can penalize just about anyone for calling for a protest on social media and for refusing to follow police orders on how they should carry out the protest (which, by the way, can penalize a protester up to £2,500). Police can control how "noisy" the protests can be - considering that this goes under the "serious disruption" offense - as much as they can decide when the protest starts and when it finishes. It becomes clear that police are given a lot more power than they once had, to the point that instead of simple 'law enforcement', the bill looks like an attempt of 'state control' and suppression of freedoms.
Occupying public spaces, hanging off bridges, or any sort of behavior - however peaceful - that "intentionally or recklessly" causes "public nuisance", is subject to law enforcement. That includes tampering with public memorials, such as when the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was brought down and replaced in Bristol, June 2021. That sort of behavior, with the new bill, can land a civilian in prison for up to 10 years.
Furthermore, the bill can also ban certain people from protesting, just by their names. If protests were a right for civilians to hold the government accountable, then only some are allowed to practice their citizenship.
Although the bill violates international standards for peaceful demonstrations, there is not much to expect from a systemized vilification of expression. Last year, Priti Patel, the UK's Home Secretary, described the Black Lives Matter protests, which called to end police brutality, as "dreadful".
George Monbiot, in his opinion piece written for The Guardian, expressed his outrage over the bill,
"These are dictators’ powers. The country should be in uproar over them, but we hear barely a squeak. The Kill the Bill protesters have tried valiantly to draw our attention to this tyrant’s gambit, and have been demonized for their pains," Monbiot wrote.
Crackdown on democracy
Boris Johnson's United Kingdom does not seem to see eye-to-eye with democratic expression. Multiple bills are proposed to limit British civilians from practicing citizenship, from voting, to journalism, to protests. Millions of Britons can be deprived of voting for simply not having an ID card, putting low socioeconomic groups at a disadvantage, according to research which shows that lower classes are less likely to hold a passport because they don't travel, and they don't hold driver's licenses because they don't have cars to drive.
In addition, the UK Home Office also looks to dissolve journalists' right to the public interest for whistleblowing, holding governmental authorities accountable and rather treating journalists as 'spies'. The new proposed law is to tighten restrictions on the release of information and leaks from journalists, in addition to imposing longer sentences on whistleblowers.
Kill the Bill
Earlier this year, in April, protests broke out across England in rejection of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill. The April weekend was dubbed the “national weekend of action,” where hundreds marched through the streets, including London and Bristol, holding banners that said, "Kill the Bill."
Non-profits such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, which has recently protested against Amazon's abuse of environment and labor, participated in the march.
“The government is trying to curtail protests – especially BLM and XR – that is what this bill is all about. We want the clauses in this bill about protests quashed,” said a London protester, Mark Duncan.