Saturday, July 31, 2010

Criminalising citizen protests and demonstrations

image courtesy of Perth Now

"Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely
essential to it."
Howard Zinn

"..... there is an increasing and disturbing trend to answer civil disobedience and peaceful protest with criminal prosecution, and using harsh, disproportionate punishments as a means of stifling dissent, and restricting freedom of expression"
Dirk Voorhoof and Serge Gutwirth.
On the ABC's online publication Drum Unleashed two Belgian academics, Dirk Voorhoof and Serge Gutwirth have written about the growing threat to activism and civil disobedience presented by the use of the tools of the criminal, policing and justice systems.

The authors argue that that political freedoms such as the freedom of expression, the right of civil disobedience, citizen action and political protest, as well as the political liberties of citizens, are increasingly at risk from the actions of political leaders and police and legal systems.

They highlight recent cases in Denmark (the Red Carpet Four who were arrested during protests at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009) and Japan (two anti-whaling a activists were charged with trespass and theft) where activists were harshly treated by authorities and arbitrarily detained for long periods.

The recent G20 summit in Toronto provides further evidence. Police were granted sweeping new powers for the duration of the summit to prevent protest and dissent and harass and arrest demonstrators. These laws were passed secretly without any public or Parliamentary debate. The result was massive and brutal police harassment of protesters, resulting in thousands being arrested for demonstrating, Police using rubber bullets on demonstrators and citizens being arrested for failing to identify themselves. A lawsuit is being launched by Canadian Civil Liberties Association against police action for violation of citizen rights.

Here in Australia as Zoe Hutchinson and Holly Creenaune in their article in Dissent show that similar trends are evident in Australia where there has been a major expansion of police and other powers, particularly so called 'emergency powers' to stifle protest and dissent and target social movements.

Here in Western Australia the stop and search laws being proposed by the Conservative Barnett government provide police with greater powers to criminalize protest and target demonstrators in designated areas.

There is a valuable Australian site of resources for activists Activist where you can read more on these issues.

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