London set to limit right to protest
The British government has announced controversial plans to ban protestors from taking part in public gatherings following the weekend anti-cuts rallies, which were marred by violence.
Based on a proposal by Home Secretary Theresa May, the police may be given new powers to prevent so-called hooligans from attending rallies and marches while officers will also be authorized to force demonstrators, who do not want to be known, to remove their face-scarves and balaclavas.
The announcement has raised concerns among MPs who say no hasty decision should be made on the issue as the police may abuse the “stop and search” powers to target ordinary people rather than “known hooligans”.
May outlined her plans during an emergency Commons briefing on the violent incidents, which marred the Saturday rally organized by the Trades Union Congress.
May told the MPs that she is considering “banning orders” similar to those used against football hooligans for the demonstrators who police think may turn to violence.
She also said officers should force more protestors to remove their masks and balaclavas to help the police quickly identify participants in the rallies.
“Just as the police review their operational tactics, so the Home Office will review the powers available to the police. I have asked the police whether they need further powers to prevent violence before it occurs. I am willing to consider powers which would ban known hooligans from rallies and marches and I will look into the powers the police already have to force the removal of face-coverings and balaclavas,” May said.
While the Metropolitan Police earlier said it has charged 149 people out of more than 200 arrested during the Saturday rallies with various offenses, at least five people have lodged complaints with Scotland Yard about police violence against marchers.
The Met said on Monday that it has charged 138 people in connection with the sit-in at Fortnum & Mason luxury store for charges including aggravated trespass.
However, the UK Uncut, which organized the sit-in dismissed any claims that those participating in the Fortnum & Mason incident resorted to violence.
“This was not a protest by people wearing balaclavas and breaking things. It was a peaceful and mild-mannered gathering by people from all walks of life – teachers, hospital workers, charity workers,” said Tim Matthews, a spokesman for UK Uncut.
“People who took part now find themselves charged with a criminal offence simply for exercising their right to protest,” he added.
This comes as Tom Brake MP, co-chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary policy committee on home affairs, justice and equalities, warned the government against “a knee-jerk reaction” to what happened.
“Clearly there was a small minority who were out to cause trouble. We need to look in detail into whether the police have sufficient powers to tackle that, or whether they can be deployed differently to ensure such violent scenes don’t happen again,” Brake said.