Statement by JADC on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and The Nationality and Borders Bill
The ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ is a wholesale attack on the right to protest. The Committee to Defend Julian Assange has consistently opposed the Bill, supported demonstrations against it and sent solidarity to those beaten, arrested, victimised and imprisoned on actions against the Bill. We support the 15 January Day of Action events.
In our statement on March 2021, we said:
‘The JADC condemns in the strongest sense these reactionary proposals which criminalise protest. Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Protest is not only a right but a duty in the face of the many social, economic, environmental and political injustices in this society. Change only comes about by organising protest. The JADC campaigned and protested about the lies, injustices and denial of rights in the Julian Assange case thus helping to reach and change public opinion.’
‘It is war, climate change and injustice which cause ’alarm and distress’ to the mass of people. No government has the right to silence dissent and prevent protest. Challenge the proposed new laws. Do not let the voices of progress be silenced.’
In April we said:
The Committee to Defend Julian Assange sends solidarity and support to those who have been protesting against the new ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’, particularly those who have been arrested or injured by the vicious police assaults on the protesters .
Those targeted by the police included protesters, legal observers and journalists. We pointed out that:
‘ It is the young who are going to have to live under the tyranny of rulers bent on war and environmental ruin. Those rulers are determined to erode and destroy democratic and human rights and meet protest with repression and violence.’
That repression has already begun even before the Police Bill is passed. Since the Bristol protests in March 2021, 82 people have been arrested with 12 of them getting sentences totalling over 49 years in prison. Ryan Roberts received a vicious 14-year sentence. When four protestors who had toppled the statue of slave-trader Edward Colston were acquitted by a jury, government supporters were enraged and spoke of the need to curb jury trials. The Police Bill proposes a maximum 10-year sentence for statue toppling.
In the face of widespread opposition from civil and human rights groups and large protests the Bill has now got even worse. In November, 18 pages of amendments to the Bill were introduced by government peers in the House of Lords.
These include new offences and higher sentences:
• Locking On, this makes it a crime for a person to attach themselves, to another person or an object or to the land, where doing so is capable of causing serious disruption. Locking on will be punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison and/or a fine.
• Wilful Obstruction of the Highway, the current punishment for someone who wilfully obstructs the highway is a fine. This amendment will change it to up to 51 weeks in prison, a fine, or both.
• Obstruction of Major Transport Works, if they obstruct someone from taking any steps connected to the construction or maintenance of any major transport works. The punishment is up to 51 weeks in prison and/or a fine
• Stop and Search, – Police will be able to stop and search a person or vehicle for items intended for use in connection with the offences in the Bill and will be able to put orders in place allowing for ‘suspicion-less’ stop and search for these items in a specific location for up to 24 hours (and up to 48 hours, if authorised).
• New Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (SDPOs), or protest banning orders, which can be imposed on individuals for up to two years. It effectively removes their civil and human rights and subjects them to a set of conditions, including not associating with certain people, going to certain places, carrying certain items, or using the internet in a certain way.
The only forms of protest allowed by this Bill are those that are silent, ineffective, pass unnoticed and are police/Government approved.
A current Bristol leaflet vividly makes the point:
The widespread opposition to this Bill is poorly reflected in Parliament. Labour, the main opposition party, was due to abstain on the Bill prior to the police attack on vigils about the murder of Sarah Everard but then said it would oppose it. It has done little to publicly demonstrate that opposition but after intense lobbying, Labour peers have said they will be “opposing protest clauses added late”.
The Government is not content with one repressive piece of legislation but is also proposing changes to the Human Rights Act, curbing Judicial Review and amending the Official Secrets Act which threatens to criminalise journalism and increase sentences for leaking material.
It is pushing through the racist Nationality and Borders Bill which will make it even more difficult for those seeking to claim asylum and force them to use the most unsafe ways of reaching the UK. We saw the end result in the tragedy in November when 27 migrants -including a 16-year-old and a child aged seven – drowned in the Channel. It also includes the right to strip someone of their UK citizenship without notice or even notification if the Home Secretary thinks it “conducive to the public good”, in the interests of “national security” or diplomatic relations.
Those of us who have been campaigning to free journalist and publisher Julian Assange and prevent his extradition to the US, know that much of what passes for democracy in the USA and Britain is nothing of the sort. He has suffered 11 years of deprivation of liberty with the last 2 and a half years in Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison. He has suffered years of persecution and psychological torture. It was recently revealed that the CIA had sketched plans to kidnap Julian Assange in London, render him to the USA and even assassinate him.
If extradited to the US he faces a possible 175-year sentence in a hell-hole prison. For what? From 2010, he and WikiLeaks published millions of secret leaked government documents about illegal western wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the murder of civilians, torture, rendition and death squads.
And while Julian Assange is silenced and locked up, Tony Blair, one of the architects of the illegal war in Iraq, is knighted. As we say in our current leaflet:
“Yet what is done to Julian Assange will be done to others brave enough to challenge the domination of the war-mongering ruling classes“.
Those who think effective struggles against climate change, war and inequality will be met with anything other than repression need to study what has happened to Julian Assange.
Here he discusses the implications of global mass surveillance for the rule of law, lawyer-client confidentiality, and the legal profession, at the Commonwealth Law Conference 2015, in Glasgow
Further information on arrests and trials in Bristol:
Bristol Defendant Solidarity @BristolDefenda1