Quite rightly, our newspapers are filled with stories of political and human rights abuses from around the world. We may well worry how the Chinese government continues to tighten its grip on the people of Hong Kong and is determined to quash any pro-democracy movement as we see it. We may well recoil in horror as we read how an Indonesian woman received a hundred lashes for having pre-marital sex. As it happens, so did her partner.
The world can be a beautiful place yet there are worrying and horrific things that go in it. Authoritarianism, be it political or religious, is still a great stain on humanity yet we don’t have to look too far to realise that it is going on at home too.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has just passed its third reading in the House of Commons with 365 for and 265 against. Only the House of Lords stands in its way before receiving royal ascent.
Authoritarian regimes always like to control their people. These things used to happen abroad but now they are happening here too. Through the bill, the police are being given disproportionate powers to impose conditions on any protest deemed disruptive to the local community. You can be arrested for protesting too loudly.
Yet how else can you protest? Many significant changes in society, including voting itself, have come through protesting. The right to protest is fundamental in any functioning democracy and watering it down or removing the ability removes the democractc process. Whether you like what the people are protesting about or not, we all need to respect their ability to do so.
A society in which you cannot demonstrate is authoritarian. A government that restricts how you are able to protest is already on its way to being authoritarian. Nobody wants to see people hurt or property damaged yet there are already laws to cover such things. We don’t need more.
Who decides then what is too disruptive? How loud do you have to be? It looks like we are going to find out soon.