Act now to defend Occupy London and the right to protest

The authorities are acting swiftly to outlaw protests of the kind seen outside St Paul's. Speak out now against this - because every piece of legislation that inhibits the right to peaceful protest is a blow to our democracy.
12 January 2012

This is the first part of a two part piece outlining current moves by the authorities to attack the 'occupy' movement, starting with the imminent closure of the decade-long protests in Parliament Square, the new PRASRA law, and plans to roll out similar controls throughout London. You can act now to stop this by responding to the Westminster 'public consultation' which closes at 5.30pm this Friday, 13th january.

PRASRA is the 'Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011', sections 142-149 of which were enacted on December 19th, and introduce draconian new powers to prevent any form of overnight camping in parliament square and its pavements, and to outlaw the use of any amplifying noise equipment in the square at any time of day or night.

It also closes loopholes that existed in the previous SOCPA (Serious Organised Crime and Police Act) legislation (controlling protests in the vicinity of parliament by requiring authorisation) in that it gives the police, the council, and any of its "authorised officers", the power to seize items useful to stay overnight, and sound equipment, as well as the power to arrest people who fail to comply with a direction to cease an activity or not to start such activity.

Although the PRASRA camping restriction came into force in December, Westminster Council has been unable to act on it so far because of a temporary injunction brought by protestors in the square.

On Monday (16th Jan), the high court will decide if a judicial review can be brought, but Westminster's legal position is that they can go ahead with a seizure and clean the protestors away from the square, and face a judicial review of their actions later. More on this, and Monday's court hearing, in part two.

In the meantime, I want to focus on an even greater threat to the protest movement, and what you can do about it in the next 40 hours.

Westminster Council intends to bring in new bye-laws, covering pretty much all the possible sites of protest in its area, based on the PRASRA law. Their openly admitted reason for doing this is in response to the global 'occupy' movement. They state that “The erection of tents on the highway and other public places in an urban setting is a relatively new phenomenon and it is clear that it is becoming more prevalent… There is a particular fear that in the light of what happened at St Paul’s, a similar new encampment could appear in the precincts of Westminster Abbey” and “Some may consider it premature to make Byelaws when Part 3 of PRSRA 2011 has not been tested yet. However, the Council takes the view that the risk of the existing tents being simply moved across the road, and the risk of new encampments of the sort seen at St Paul’s are serious enough to justify pre-emptive action. This is borne out to an extent by the swiftness with which the encampment at St Paul’s was established and grew.” 

Furthermore, their site suggests that the GLA and the Dept of Culture, Media and Sport, (the governing authorities for the rest of London and for the royal parks respectively), are also undertaking consultations to bring in similar byelaws - strangely there is no sign of these "public" consultations on either of the linked sites - activists are currently trying to find out about these.

So, what can YOU do right now? Simply take part in the consultation and get your voice heard, registering your concerns either as an organisation or as an individual.

Some points you might want to make are that, while Westminster claim they are not trying to prevent protest, it is clear that a tent or similar structure is an important and necessary tool of trade for a full-time campaigner, and outlawing their use WILL impact on legitimate peaceful protest. 

People don't take up a full-time protest lightly. The whole point of an 'occupy'-style protest, or a long-term vigil, is that it is a CONSTANT presence. Such protesting is NOT the "turn up, march a bit, and go home" pageantry that our rulers would like to convince us is legitimate protest and a sign of a healthy democracy. No. A real democracy will allow ANY legitimate protest, and a 24-hour protest or a peace vigil IS legitimate and should be encouraged, not legislated against.

Obviously, use your own words and make your own points, but please do it now. The closing time for this consultation is 5.30pm on friday, and a sudden surge of public voice would be an excellent show of feeling to the bureaucrats at Westminster.

To join the consultation, you simply download the document here, fill it in, which won't take long, and then email it to the solicitors in charge of the consultation at [email protected].

Please spread the word on this via twitter, facebook and your mail contacts, and watch out for part two of this article in the next couple of days, with some background on Parliament Square, the coming court case on monday, and hopefully more info on the GLA and government plans to extend the "global war on camping" (GWAC).

This article was originally published on Indymedia London.

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