Freedom Debate: UN Expert Condemn Extreme Crackdown on Protestors

UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst has condemned the UK’s severe crackdown on environmental protests, citing draconian laws, courtroom restrictions, and civil injunctions, asserting that these measures have a chilling effect on fundamental freedoms amid the global environmental crisis. Here’s the full story.

Chilling Effect on Protest

The United Nations special rapporteur on environmental defenders, Michel Forst, has expressed serious concerns about the severe and restrictive measures imposed on environmental protesters in the United Kingdom. Forst highlighted the government’s crackdown involving “draconian” new laws, stringent courtroom restrictions, and the use of civil injunctions.

Forst further asserted that these measures have a chilling impact on citizens’ fundamental right to protest the planet’s destruction. 

As the planet faces the apocalyptic trifecta of climate catastrophe, encompassing the changing climate, a dramatic loss of biodiversity, and rampant pollution, Forst emphasised the crucial role environmental protesters have to play in society.

Forst stated that the same protesters who were victims of the government’s harsh new laws were acting for the “benefit of us all” and that they require protection, rather than persecution, as they advocate for the urgent action necessary to address the world’s significant and imminent environmental collapse. 

Khafka’s Got Nothing on Us

According to Forst, during his recent visit to the UK, he uncovered disturbing information regarding the treatment of peaceful protesters, particularly in the Inner London crown court.

In a scenario that would sound more plausible as a Khafka novel rather than in a UK courtroom, defendants faced rules preventing them from explaining their motivations to the jury, with mentions of the climate crisis, fuel poverty, and civil rights movements forbidden.

Forst stated, “It is very difficult to understand what could justify denying the jury the opportunity to hear the reason for the defendant’s action, and how a jury could reach a properly informed decision without hearing it, in particular at the time of environmental defenders’ peaceful but ever more urgent calls for the government to take pressing action for the climate.” 

Forst criticised the prosecution of peaceful protesters under what he describes as “regressive” public nuisance laws introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

Incredibly, these laws carry a 10-year sentence, and coupled with the use of the Public Order Act 2023, they have contributed to the criminalization of peaceful demonstrations, a profoundly troubling reminder of Britain’s more shameful periods in history, both recent and distant.  

Heading in a Dystopian Direction

When highlighting the severity of the crackdowns, Forst presented a case where a peaceful protester was sentenced to an astonishing six months in jail for simply strolling down a road during a climate protest.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Forst stated, “It is important to highlight that, prior to these legislative developments, it had been almost unheard of since the 1930s for members of the public to be imprisoned for peaceful protest in the UK.”

On top of the punitive sentences, Forst also drew attention to the cripplingly harsh bail conditions imposed on climate activists engaged in peaceful protests. These conditions included electronic ankle tags, movement restrictions, and bans on communication with other environmental activists.

He questioned the necessity and proportionality of such measures, emphasising the detrimental impact they had on environmental defenders’ personal lives and mental health.

From Bad to Worse

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Forst also condemned the widespread use of civil injunctions to curtail peaceful protests and criticised the “toxic” discourse prevalent in the UK media and among politicians regarding climate protesters.

Forst argued that this discourse can, and has been, used as justification for increasingly severe and draconian measures against environmental defenders, further chilling civil society and the ability of citizens to exercise their fundamental freedoms.

In his remarks, Forst made it clear that he felt it necessary to speak out due to the gravity of his concerns regarding the rights and freedoms of climate activists in the UK. He also called for a constructive dialogue with the Conservative government.

However, he emphasised the need to ensure that individuals seeking to protect the environment through peaceful protest are not subject to persecution, penalization, or harassment. Forst’s ongoing investigations include the possibility of formal complaints about the treatment of those seeking to protect Earth’s fragile climate.

However, whether these chilling discoveries will fundamentally change the ability of protesters to save the environment remains to be seen.

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The post Freedom Debate: UN Expert Condemn Extreme Crackdown on Protestors first appeared on Edge Media.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Olivier Guiberteau.

Grant Gallacher is a seasoned writer with expertise in politics and impactful daily news. His work, deeply rooted in addressing issues that resonate with a wide audience, showcases an unwavering commitment to bringing forth the stories that matter. He is also known for satirical writing and stand up comedy.

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