Written by Isla Woodcock for Defend the Right to Protest
Mr Kiai visited London, Edinburgh and Belfast over 10 days and spoke to Government bodies, the Police and members of civil society. He explained the reasons for his visit are threefold: the situation in Northern Ireland, the student demonstrations in 2010 and concerns over calls for restrictions of social networks such as BBM following the riots in August 2011. With the current Belfast flag protests and only weeks before Alfie and Zak’s retrial, this made it a very timely visit.
He expressed grave concerns about the use of undercover police and was damning of the Government’s handling of the Mark Kennedy case. He refuted the analogy drawn with James Bond and suggested that the police were unable to investigate this themselves, calling instead for a public judge-led inquiry like the Leveson Inquiry into the use of phone hacking.
The use of intelligence gathering was a key theme, and the Special Rapporteur was critical of the extensive databases collated by the police and the categorisation of protesters as “domestic extremists”. He was clear that Police Liaison Officers (PLOs) should not be used to gather intelligence. Mr Kiai also said that the UK police have no role in providing intelligence to other Governments about the protest activities of their citizens, and that intelligence gathering should not interfere with the right to protest, such as when protesters are forced to cover their faces to protect themselves from being photographed and identified.
Right to Protest
Mr Kiai was clear that we have a right to protest and this is part of our civic duty. He was strongly critical of policing that sought to curtail those rights, describing kettling as having a “powerful chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of assembly”, and noting the increased chilling effect of using kettles to compel protesters to give their name and address. Similarly, stop and search powers “should never be used against peaceful protesters.”
Strict bail conditions and civil injunctions by private companies are designed to deter protesters from exercising their rights and should be challenged. The issue of aggravated trespass is also “very problematic, especially in the context of increasing privatisation of public space.”
He was critical of the public order approach to policing protest, arguing instead for a human-rghts based approach and suggested that our legal framework, including the Public Order Act, was at odds with this approach. He was clear that powers such as Section 13 of the Public Order Act which allows the use of blanket bans on protest such as the 30 day ban on demonstrations in three boroughs of London, used to prevent the EDL from marching in Walthamstow in September, were intrinsically disproportionate.
Although he said that the policing of the Jubilee and Olympics were a success, he qualified this by saying that mass detainment like the kettling of the bike ride Critical Mass on the opening night of the Olympics should never be used.
Right to Strike
Mr Kiai also made two very clear recommendations regarding freedom of association: The law preventing secondary picketing or solidarity strikes should be repealed; and on the issue of blacklisting he said: “I was appalled to hear about the existence of a blacklist of union members in the construction industry, with no sanctions allegedly taken against those who benefitted from the list. It is crucial that strong actions be taken against the making and using of such lists as a deterrence.”I was appalled to hear about the existence of a blacklist of union members in the construction industry, with no sanctions allegedly taken against those who benefitted from the list. It is crucial that strong actions be taken against the making and using of such lists as a deterrenceI was appalled to hear about the existence of a blacklist of union members in the construction industry, with no sanctions allegedly taken against those who benefitted from the list. It is crucial that strong actions be taken against the making and using of such lists as a deterrence
The UN Special Rapporteur’s full report will be presented at the 23rd conference of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013.
Mr Kiai said that he expected the austerity measures to cause dislocation and discontent, and that the country will see more protests in the current months. His initial statement affirmed our rights to protest and take peaceful direct action, and told the Government to stop treating protesters like criminals. His call for a public inquiry is already being heard in the media. Hopefully the rest of his report findings and recommendations will be just as strong in holding the Government accountable and upholding our right to protest.
You can read the full press release here: