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Highlight keywords  |Print this articlePrint this article
From: The Socialist issue 710, 21 March 2012: Tell the Con-Dem government: NO CUTS!

Search site for keywords: Democratic rights - Protest - Police - Socialist - London - Liberties - Anti-capitalist

Defend the right to protest!

The eleven year battle for justice for those detained by police on the May Day demonstration in 2001 has finally come to an end. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against the claim of many of those held, led by Socialist Party member Lois Austin, that their right to liberty had been infringed by the use of the police tactic of containment of protesters - 'kettling'.

Various campaign groups met on the day of the judgement to discuss the next steps in the fight to defend the right to protest. Plans were made to issue guidance to protesters on what evidence to gather of police behaviour when on protests and also to organise a public meeting involving campaigns and trade unions.

Lois was keen to point out that the arguments that the Socialist Party made at the time have been borne out by events since - the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson and revelations about agent provocateurs operating in the anti-fascist and environmental movements etc.

As demonstrations, protests and strikes against austerity become more common, there are even more horrific policing tactics in the pipeline. The Independent recently revealed that, in London, the use of rubber bullets has been authorised 22 times in the last year. Scotland Yard is also considering making water cannon and Taser stun guns more easily accessible for the police.

We say:

  • Build a mass campaign in defence of civil and democratic rights! Defend the right to protest
  • Scrap the anti-trade union laws, defend the right to strike
  • Stop victimisation of protesters by the police and in the courts
  • Repeal all the draconian 'anti-terror' legislation and stop new repressive powers
  • For the election of judges and the right to trial by jury
  • For the police to be under the control of, and accountable to, the communities they serve. For trade union rights for the police

I regret the judgment from the European Court of Human Rights today which found against Lois Austin who took a case against the British state for their use of the kettling technique on demonstrations. I fully supported Lois in her campaign and joined her and her legal team last September during her initial hearing at the ECHR court in Strasbourg.

Lois was detained on the street with 3,000 others during the May Day demonstration in London in 2001. Lois was kept for over seven hours in the rain, with no access to food, water or even toilet facilities.

This tactic has been increasingly used in Britain in the last few years, and is part of a general increase in repressive tactics against protest movements. It is unfortunate that the court did not find against this tactic - although I note the three dissenting views - but the campaign against repressive measures against protest will continue. I call on the trade union movement to campaign to eradicate all repressive anti-democratic laws from the statute books.

Paul Murphy, Socialist Party Ireland MEP

This is a very disappointing judgement, we have campaigned for eleven years to defend the right to protest and stop the use of routine kettling tactics against protesters. We note three dissenting judgements, which question the use of detaining protesters in a supposedly democratic society.

The campaign for the right to protest will continue and will go hand in hand with the fight against cuts, wars and erosion of civil liberties and democratic rights. Today many more people have the same views as the anti-capitalist protesters had in 2001, as we have seen with the international Occupy movement. In Britain we face years of austerity - the campaign will go on.

Lois Austin

Adding insult to injury

Like thousands of other young people, angry at the Con-Dem coalition's attacks on education, Alfie Meadows marched against fees and cuts in London on 9 December 2010.

All Alfie had wanted to do was to exercise his democratic right to protest against government proposals to treble tuition fees, which were voted through the House of Commons that same day.

But the philosophy student from Middlesex University was caught up, with thousands of others, in vicious police kettles. When a group tried to escape the kettling, he received an almost fatal blow from a police truncheon, which it was later discovered had caused bleeding on the brain. Alfie required emergency brain surgery, and could easily have died.

To add insult to very serious injury, Alfie has since been charged with violent disorder, and has been told he will have to go through court proceedings before his complaint against the police will be considered by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Alfie's experience is not unique. Not only were around 30 protestors treated for head injuries that day, cerebral palsy sufferer Jody McIntyre was filmed being thrown from his wheelchair and dragged along the ground by police. Yet not one police officer has suffered any recriminations for their actions.

The case of Alfie Meadows should serve as a warning to the student movement. We must expect the state to sometimes meet our protests with repression.

We must defend the right to protest and stand in solidarity with victims of police violence. Importantly, we must take stewarding of our demonstrations very seriously indeed, and do everything we can to ensure that demonstrators are safe, know their rights and are prepared for every eventuality.

Alfie's trial starts on 26 March.

Sam Morecroft, Sheffield Socialist Students





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