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Language campaigners call for scrapping of ‘dangerous’ anti-protest bill

14 Mar 2021 3 minutes Read
Cymdeithas yr Iaith protesting the Central Square, Cardiff, Wales in 2016. Picture by Oergell (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Language campaigners have called for a “dangerous” bill handing police and the UK Government Home Secretary greater powers to crack down on protests to be scrapped.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith, which has won more rights for Welsh speakers through decades of non-violent protest, said that Westminster shouldn’t be placing more powers in the hands of police.

Among other measures, the bill allows police to impose restrictions on a protest if they deem it to be noisy, or could cause “serious unease, alarm or distress” to passers-by, or cause “impact”.

The Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, Mabli Siriol, said the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill should not be passed by legislators.

“The right to protest is fundamental in any democracy, and we know that as with any movement for social change, the future of the Welsh language has only been secured through protest,” she said.

“Recent events, such as the intimidation of protestors in Cardiff looking for answers about the death of Mohamud Hassan and the attacks on women at the vigil for Sarah Everard, show that putting even more power in the hands of the police to limit protest is dangerous.

“This bill must be scrapped. Cymdeithas yr Iaith has always been willing to take direct action for our language and communities, and we have no intention of stopping.”

‘Demand for action’

The bill will also give Home Secretary Priti Patel powers to create laws to define “serious disruption” to communities and organisations, which police can then rely on to impose conditions on protests.

The UK Government said that the bill had been drawn up in response to non-violent but “disruptive” protests by Extinction Rebellion in London and Cardiff in 2019.

Extinction Rebellion closed Castle Street in the middle of Cardiff for five days. The road was later closed during the pandemic by the Council, and remains closed to private vehicles although there are now plans to reopen it.

The home secretary also described the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the UK last year as “dreadful” and said she did not agree with the gesture of taking the knee.

The Labour Party have now said that they will oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, having originally intended to abstain.

The change of heart came after anger at how officers broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard.

David Lammy MP, the shadow justice secretary, said the 33-year-old’s killing had “instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women” and so it was “no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression”.

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