On Sunday 21st March, Stroud residents joined campaigners across the country in saying “no” to planned legislation that would squash the right to protest in the UK and give police increased powers to target already marginalised groups.
Eight people raised four 4 metre long banners outside the Subscription Rooms in Stroud, reading “10 years in jail for serious annoyance?” “No to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill!”, “Use it or lose it: defend the right to protest” and “Solidarity with Gypsies, Roma & Travellers”.
10 year prison sentences for causing ‘serious annoyance’
The wide-ranging Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes a raft of measures that limit the right to protest, expand surveillance and monitoring of ethnic minority communities, and grant police and courts wider powers. The Bill dramatically extends the range of powers police can use to shut down protests and increases potential criminal sanctions for protesters. Under the legislation, police will be able impose conditions on where and how protests take place, prosecuting people if they knowingly or unknowingly breach these conditions. The legislation also allows for protesters to be handed prison sentences of up to ten years for vaguely defined offences of ‘serious annoyance’ or ‘serious inconvenience’. In online communication after the event, those involved pointed to a reading list and encouraged all Stroud constituents to read up on the dangers posed by this bill.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities targeted
The legislation directly targets Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities by criminalising “unauthorised encampments”. Police will be empowered to seize property from GRT communities, including homes, if they suspect someone is “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”. With central government and local authorities continuously restricting the number of authorised sites for GRT communities, additional enforcement and fines for stopping in unauthorised locations threatens to push people into the criminal justice system, homelessness and destitution. Those involved in the Stroud action encouraged people to use an online tool created by the organisation Friends, Families and Travellers to contact their local MP to express their opposition.
An unpopular piece of legislation
After the heavy-handed police tactics seen at the vigil for Sarah Everard’s death at Clapham Common on Saturday 13th March, public opposition to the (PCSC) Bill has spread, with huge numbers of people voicing their concern over the authoritarian measures it would bring in. Protests took place this weekend in at least 12 cities around the country.
Over 200,000 people have signed petitions in opposition to the Bill and those involved in yesterday’s action said they understood 700 from the Stroud constituency had signed already, with more signatures coming in each day.
Stroud campaigners said, “Our local MP Siobhan Baillie voted in favour of this horrifying piece of legislation in parliament last week, despite large numbers of people in Stroud voicing their opposition. The Bill has now been delayed in response to the public outcry, meaning it’s not too late for MPs to take a stand and join together across party lines to stop this dangerous piece of legislation. We made our stand today to make it clear we will not let our freedoms be curtailed without a fight. We will stand in solidarity with those at the sharp end of police violence and harassment.”
The organisers of the protest have also provided a link to a reading list that provides further informational resources on these issues, this list can be found here.
Amplify Stroud’s previous article on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill can also be found here