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UK’s Policing Bill would silence us, says Ukrainian protester

Warning that Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will criminalise protest: “Just how different from Russia is the UK if it passes this law?”

Adam Bychawski
3 March 2022, 5.13pm
Peers have called the government’s measures “oppressive”.
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Ukrainian protest organisers in the UK have accused the government of hypocrisy for pushing through new anti-protest measures while criticising Russia for silencing anti-war demonstrations.

On Monday, Conservative MPs voted to reinstate controversial clauses in the government’s policing bill that would give authorities powers to ban ‘noisy’ protests after they were previously rejected in the House of Lords.

“If we are quiet and don’t really bother anyone, then who will be paying attention to us? No one,” said Zoryana, who has helped organise and spoken at several protests in support of Ukraine. 

Zoryana – who asked us not to publish her surname – said she was shocked that the government was backing new protest restrictions while demonstrations against the Russian invasion of Ukraine were taking place around the country. 

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“Passing this law would contravene the UK government’s support of Ukraine and democracy,” she said.

“The government is not only removing the freedoms of British people, but also of Ukrainians in the UK.”

On Monday, MPs criticised the government for pressing ahead with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill just days after hundreds of people had gathered outside of Downing Street in a show of support for Ukraine.

“The protesters were noisy, and they were loud. Are this government telling me and everyone else in the chamber today that they would shut them up next time? What a sorry state of affairs,” said Labour MP Paula Barker. 

Other MPs, including Conservative MP Jesse Norman, criticised the government's timing.

“Every day we are witnessing people protesting against the atrocities in Ukraine. Why on earth would we usher in legislation to curtail that?” Scottish National Party MP Anne McLaughlin asked in a debate in the House of Commons on Monday.

“When people in Kyiv are dying for their beliefs and for the rights of freedom of speech and of association, the timing is unfortunate,” Norman told the Commons.

Zoryana, who is a co-organiser of the London Euromaidan group, pointed out that the measures drew uncomfortable comparisons with Russia, where anti-war protests have been heavily suppressed.     

“Just how different from Russia is the UK if it passes this law?” she said.

On Monday, several MPs suggested that the bill would undermine the UK’s ability to call out violations of freedom of speech, such as Russia’s clampdown on protests.

“Over the past five days, thousands of people have been arrested and detained at anti-war protests across Russia. We would all defend their right to protest and yet here we are, in the mother of all democracies, debating an amendment to a Bill that would criminalise singing at a peaceful protest in this country,” said Labour MP Sarah Roberts.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Commons: “It is no good praising [protesters] in Russia if we close down protest here.”

In January, the government faced a humiliating defeat in the House of Lords after peers voted to block several clauses in the bill and condemned the proposals as “oppressive” and “plain nasty”.

But Tory MPs have now overwhelmingly voted in favour of restoring the amendments that were scrapped by peers.

The legislation will now return to the House of Lords, where peers could choose once again to reinstate the changes – but the Commons has the option of unilaterally forcing through the legislation if agreement cannot be reached. 

Last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a cross-party group of MPs and peers, said the government’s proposals were “oppressive and wrong”.

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