Don’t take the power of protest for granted

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EU march October 2019

by Poppy Bullen

In the UK you can protest against absolutely anything. From Brexit to Fracking to Donald Trump, tens of thousands use their democratic right to protest all the time.  Recently though, I have heard and seen many people take this freedom for granted here in the UK, complaining that protests are pointless and don’t actually help with situations or impact on political decisions. 

All across the world over the past few months, huge protests movements have been spreading. From Hong Kong to Chile to Australia and all over issues with absolutely no connection. The people of Hong Kong took to the streets as China has started to take back control of the state after 100 years of British rule.

Until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony but then returned to China. Under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, it has some autonomy, and its people more rights than the Chinese. Hong Kong has its own judiciary and a separate legal system from mainland China. Those rights include freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

But those freedoms – the Basic Law – expire in 2047 and it is not clear what Hong Kong’s status will then be. However, the introduction of the extradition bill triggered big protests of 2019 with millions taking to the streets at the end of last year.

Processed with VSCO with se3 presetThe Bill is said to risk exposing Hongkongers to unfair trials and violent treatment, as well as give China greater influence over Hong Kong. The worry is that this could be used to target activists and journalists. After protests, the bill was suspended however millions still feared that it could be revived.

Demonstrations continued, calling for it to be withdrawn completely and by this point, the protests were becoming violent with clashes with the police.  

In September, the bill was finally withdrawn, but the response from many protesters was “too little, too late”. The uprising continued with its violence with many people injured and some killed on both sides. 

In Novembers local council elections the vote saw a landslide victory for the pro-democracy movement and protesters, with 17 of the 18 councils now controlled by pro-democracy councillors – a huge win for the protesters.  

The people of Hong Kong are not happy about the thought of losing their rights. Under a Chinese rule, a lot would change, including their right to protest. 

Similarly, in Chile people began protesting last year over the price of food and fuel increased. Chileans are frustrated with rising living costs, low wages and one of the worst rates of inequality in Latin America. The consequence was again a clash with the countries police and military. Thousands of protestors have been detained, some injured and dozens killed.

In India, people took to the streets last month against a controversial new citizenship act that offers citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. A protest ban was imposed in parts of cities but people defied the ban, resulting in more police casualties and deaths.  

Across the world, restrictive governments are keeping their people in check as they try to deter them from protesting against what they believe in. The brave citizens defying the restrictions face huge risks of arrest, injury and in all these cases in the last few months, death.  What worries me the most is the recent restrictions on protestors of the now very famous climate action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) in our very own capital city – London. 

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XR protest 2019

In September, the Metropolitan Police imposed the ban, which prevented two or more people from the group taking part in protests, under the Public Order Act.

Amnesty International deemed this to be in breach of Human rights and in November the High Court did, in fact, rule the act unlawful after activists fought the act.  

XR are renowned for their tame protest game. With strict rules for everyone that supports them to protest non violently with no drinking and no drugs rules often written on signs around the gatherings.  

If a group so calm and well organised was banned from somewhere usually so tolerant and free as London, is our human right to protest in the UK at risk now too?

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XR protest summer 2019
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XR protest summer 2019

If a group so calm and well organised was banned from somewhere usually so tolerant and free as London, is our human right to protest in the UK at risk now too? 

Thankfully, for now – the High Court ruling takes away from officers the ability to impose a city-wide ban of future protests here in London. But with an increasingly restricted right-wing government – who knows what could happen to the next big protest group in the future. 

For now, London is still a city of tolerance and freedom of speech. Don’t take it for granted.

words and photos by poppy, editing by kyle

Previous Blog features w/ poppy;

Out and About w/ Poppy – Glasto 2019

lo key’s International Women’s Month 2018 – Part 1

The legacy of the rave and why music is political

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