Public protest plays a pivotal role in the fight for debt justice.
It is woven in the fabric of our movement, and not only connects us to millions across the world, but to thousands of years of history.
The right to protest is a fundamental human right in any democratic society and plays an important part in how we win change for people experiencing debt-related poverty, inequality and oppression.
Protest has always been at the heart of what we do from our origins in the Jubilee 2000 movement, when 70,000 people protested at the G8 Summit in Birmingham in 1998, to more recent protests this year at HSBC to expose the role of private creditors in refusing to cancel debt during the pandemic.
As a campaigning organisation, we challenge the rules and structures that allow debt to drive poverty and exploitation in our communities and across the global South. This involves building solidarity with affected groups to ensure their demands are the basis of political pressure for change.
If the right to protest is restricted, these voices are effectively silenced.
That’s why we oppose the government’s proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which poses a serious threat to the right to protest. The Bill includes measures that will restrict protest and gives police more power to arrest and prosecute people for peaceful activities:
The police already have the powers to impose conditions on protests such as the location, duration and size. But the Bill expands the reasons that conditions can be placed on a protest if the police ‘deems it necessary’, including disruption in the vicinity and noise. Noise in the form of chants, drums or music have long been important features of protests that draw attention and raise alarm about an issue. Restricting noise literally silences protests and reduces their intended impact.
These powers can be implemented by a police officer at any time during a protest and so it will become very difficult for protesters to keep safe and aware of when they are and when they are not within the law.
The Bill broadens what would be considered as a ‘nuisance’ to include “any conduct which endangers the life, health, property or comfort of a section of the public” or “that obstructs them in the exercise of rights belonging to the public.” Given many protests are intended to disrupt and obstruct, protestors face being charged with an offence that could lead to a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment.
This would have a chilling effect, deterring people from taking part in protests in fear of arrest for being considered obstructive or breaching police-imposed conditions that they were not aware of. For people of colour and marginalised communities, who already have disproportionately negative experiences of policing and the criminal justice system, the risks of participation become even higher. And this will be further compounded by increased powers of stop and search , which are already disproportionately used on groups affected by racial profiling and discrimination.
What can we do?
Just as we stand opposed to economic injustice, we must also oppose the restrictions to the right to protest. This Bill shifts more power to the police and ultimately shields corporations and political decision makers from the protests of affected communities. This affects all movements for progressive change and disproportionately impacts people of colour and marginalised communities.
As the Bill is debated in the House of Lords today, movements are coming together to collectively oppose it.
We have signed onto this joint letter to the government along with hundreds of social justice organisations and groups. You can also oppose the Bill by signing onto this petition hosted by our friends at Liberty and follow us on social media for updates #KillTheBill