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Peaceful protest is not domestic extremism

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letter, The Guardian, 17 June 2019, police, domestic extremists, secret files, peaceful protest, political opinionUK law ‘is too vague to provide adequate protection against the arbitrary use of police powers’.

Over the last eight years the Network For Police Monitoring, (Netpol), has campaigned to highlight the increasing evidence that the police are categorising campaigners as ‘domestic extremists’ because of their political opinions.

Police forces have been criticised for keeping secret files on the political activities of thousands of campaigners, including the Green party politicians Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones as well as a number of journalists who appear to have been labelled ‘extremist’ simply for reporting on political protest and campaigns.

One major concern is that the ‘domestic extremist’ label is not defined in law but has nevertheless been applied on an indiscriminate blanket basis to people participating in a wide range of campaign groups, including those who are actively opposing fracking, fox-hunting, nuclear weapons and the arms trade, as well as anti-fascists and climate change campaigners.

And it seems there is no need for someone to have a conviction or even face any suspicion of criminality to find themself categorised in this way.

This is not a trivial issue: there can be real and serious consequences; a ‘domestic extremism’ label may result in intrusive levels of police surveillance and may restrict a person’s employment, travel, and other aspects of day-to-day life.

It also risks curtailing the right of assembly and expression more widely, chilling participation in public protest and campaigns and constraining the fundamental values that lie at the heart of a fair and free society.

In a letter published in The Guardian on 17 June 2019, 152 campaigners, lawyers, academics, journalists and politicians pointed out that ‘domestic extremism’ is no way to describe peaceful protest and called for police to stop categorising protest activities in this way.

The letter runs:

One of the greatest threats to free speech in Britain is the routine labelling, by the police, of non-violent protests and campaigns as “domestic extremism”. This term has no clear legal definition but is used to justify intensive surveillance and the retention of information on people who in many cases have never been arrested.

Designating a campaign as extremist means everyone associated with it may also find themselves labelled in this way, even if they do nothing unlawful. From anti-fracking and anti-racist campaigners to peace and anti-nuclear groups, international solidarity activists and opponents of hunting, so many people who are legitimately protesting are also subjectively targeted by sweeping terrorism powers. This includes the draconian “counter-radicalisation” Prevent programme, which has been used to try to stifle the political views of young people, their parents and those who work with children and vulnerable adults.

Categorising legitimate free speech and dissent as “domestic extremism” intimidates and alienates people from taking part in protest activities, restricting their ability to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association. This cannot continue.

Already this year, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has ruled that police acted unlawfully in compiling and retaining records about the political activities of campaigners John and Linda Catt on a “domestic extremism” database. It added that UK law in this area is too vague to provide adequate protection against the arbitrary use of police powers.

We collectively support the demands of the Network for Police Monitoring’s “Protest Is Not Extremism” campaign, which calls on the police to stop categorising campaigning and protest activities as domestic extremism. We also seek a clear separation of protest policing from counter-terrorism and better protection for campaigners against surveillance, including independent oversight of how police use it in relation to political protest.

And signed by

Kevin Blowe, Coordinator, Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol); John and Linda Catt Campaigners who successfully challenged the police’s “domestic extremism” database; Shamik Dutta, Bhatt Murphy, John and Linda Catt’s solicitor; Jenny Jones, Green, House of Lords; Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch; Deborah Coles, Executive director, Inquest; Mark Thomas, Writer and performer; Dave Timms, Friends of the Earth; Sheena Mooney, Reclaim the Power; Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; Alexandra Phillips, MEP Green, South East England; Joe Corré, Talk Fracking; Dr Gail Bradbrook, Co-founder of Extinction Rebellion; Claire James, Campaign Against Climate Change; Millie Graham, Wood Privacy International; Eveline Lubbers and Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group; Estella Schmid, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities; Anna Vickerstaff, 350.org; Graham Thompson, Co-founder of Plane Stupid; Asad Rehman, Anti-racist campaigner; Melanie Gingell, Peace in Kurdistan; Emily Apple, Journalist and campaigner; Rebecca Lush, Environmental campaigner; Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London; David Mead, Professor of UK human rights law, University of East Anglia; Professor David Miller, University of Bristol; Dr Tanzil Chowhdury, Lecturer in public law, Queen Mary University of London; Dr Will Jackson, Liverpool John Moores University; Dr Asim Qureshi, CAGE; Dr Hilary Aked, Researcher and campaigner; Professor Emeritus Nick Cowern, Newcastle University; Dr Andrea Brock, University of Sussex; Catherine Harrington, Frack Off London; Claire Stephenson and Bob Dennett, Frack Free Lancashire; Tina Rothery, UK Nanas; Tom Wainwright. Barrister, Garden Court Chambers and co-author of The Protest Handbook; Michael Hamilton, Senior lecturer in public protest law, University of East Anglia, and secretary of the OSCE-ODIHR panel of experts on freedom of assembly; Damien Short, Director, Human Rights Consortium, and reader in human rights, Institute of Commonwealth Studies; Andy Meinke, Activist Court Aid Brigade; Carol Towner, Protest Justice; Lydia Dagostino, Solicitor, Kellys; Simon Pook, Solicitor, Lizars; Mike Schwarz, Solicitor, Bindmans; Rachel Harger, Solicitor, Bindmans; Ian Brownhill, Barrister; Owen Greenhall, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers; Alex Gask, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers; Matt Foot ,Solicitor, Birnberg Peirce; Jules Carey, Solicitor, Bindmans; Raj Chada, Solicitor, Hodge Jones & Allen; Lochlinn Parker, Solicitor, ITN; Patrick Ormerod, Solicitor, Bindmans; Michael Oswald, Solicitor, Bhatt Murphy; Simon Natas, Solicitor, ITN; Steven Bird, Solicitor, Birds; Ewa Jasiewicz, Union organiser, activist and writer; Liam Geary, Baulch Extinction Rebellion; Phil Ball, Activist, Arctic 30; Richard Scholey, Woodsetts Against Fracking; Steve Mason, Frack Free United; Richard Roberts, Reclaim the Power/one of the “Frack Free Four”; Rich Loizou, Reclaim the Power/one of the “Frack Free Four”; Maureen Mills, Halsall Against Fracking; Barbara Richardson, Roseacre Awareness Group; Susan Gough, Frack Free Kirby Misperton; Liz Cruse, Pagans United Against Fracking; Andy Andrews, Frack Free Somerset; Julie Daniels, Lancashire Nanas; Lorraine Inglis, Weald Action Group; Peter Scott, Environmental campaigner; Jojo Mehta, Frack Free Five Valleys; Merilyn Tarplee, The Moss Alliance; Kathryn McWhirter, No Fibs (No Fracking in Balcombe Society); Benjamin Dean, Environmental campaigner; Dr Jill Sutcliffe, Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green; Vivien Murchison, Concerned Communities of Falkirk; Alan Flint and Diane Bell, Frack Free Yeovil; Aedín McLoughlin, Good Energies Alliance Ireland; Owen Adams, Frack off Our Forest (of Dean); Diane Wood, South Somerset Green party; Tim Dawes, Unite Community, Shropshire branch; Chris Cannon, SAFE – Singleton Against Fracked Environment; David Penney, Keep East Lancashire Frack Free; Anna Currado and Emily Anderson, Keep Billingshurst Frack Free; John Clandillon-Baker and Rosie Rechter, East Kent Against Fracking; Ian Roberts, Residents Action on Fylde Fracking; Rikki Blue, Journalist, RealMedia.Press; Mike Hill, Expert adviser, technical working group on Hydrocarbon-BREF, Joint Research Centre of the EU commission; Richard Lawson and Sue Young-Pugh, Frack Free North Somerset; Cllr Lisa Scott, Mole Valley Green party; Chris Cole, Drone Wars UK; Martyn Lowe, Close Capenhurst Campaign; Janie Mac, Campaigner; Maggie Hartley, Retired university lecturer; Michael Vickery, Frack Free Yeovil; Pat Smith, Dorking Climate Emergency; Graham Stewart, South Lanarkshire Against Unconventional Gas; Jay Ginn, Croydon Green party; Kevin and Teresa Ogilvie-White, Frack Free EQS (Exmoor-Quantock-Sedgemoor); Adrian Palmer, Frack Free York and Villages; Thomas Barlow, Rebel Cities; Michelle Easton, Kirby Misperton Protectors; Ken Gorman, Peace campaigner; Leigh Coghill, Anti-fracking campaigner; Will Cottrell, Chair, Brighton Energy Co-op; Cllr Linda Johnson, East Riding of Yorkshire council; Russell Scott, Investigative journalist; David Adam and Barbara Hickman, Frack Free Ryedale; Kim Hunter, Frack Free Scarborough; Rob Basto, Frack Free Surrey; Ellie Wyatt, Frack Free Sussex; Steve Bolter and Peter Anthony Bruce Green, Liberal Democrats; Juliet McBride, Nukewatch; Josephine Downs, Frack Free Malton & Norton; Sheila Menon, Social justice campaigner, one of the ‘Heathrow 13’; Sian Sullivan, Professor of environment and culture, Bath Spa University; Mike Hannis, Senior lecturer in environmental humanities, Bath Spa University, and editor, The Land magazine; Professor Andy Stirling, University of Sussex; Amber Huff, Institute of Development Studies; Professor David Ockwell, Professor of Geography, University of Sussex; Andrea Cornwall, Researcher; Jan Selby, Professor of international relations, University of Sussex; Liz Khan, Women in Black London; Jane Talents, Trident Ploughshares; Professor Ian Scoones, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex; Jean Hesketh, Frack Free Dudleston; Peter Underwood, London representative on the Green party regional council; Dr Judith Verweijen, Lecturer in international relations, University of Sussex; Simon Reed, Director, Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War; Richard Dixon-Payne, Sustainable Hackney; June Bhooshi, Sheffield Against Fracking; Dr Rebecca, Elmhirst Reader in human geography, University of Brighton; Frank Jackson, former co-chair, World Disarmament Campaign; Tim Devereux, Vice-chair, Movement for the Abolition of War; Guy Martin, Environmental campaigner; Helen Steel, Police Spies Out of Lives and one of the “McLibel Two”; Alan and Jane Finney, Mosborough Against Fracking; Ian Pocock, London Campaign Against Arms Trade; Steve Ballard, Secretary, London Hazards Centre; Polly Bluck, Tower Hamlets Women for Peace; and Dr Rob Byrne, Lecturer, University of Sussex.

Feel free to forward it to your MP, in case they missed it.

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