In a span of one month, authorities in London detained 630 individuals who were participating in climate protests.
In the last month, law enforcement has detained over 630 individuals participating in peaceful demonstrations against the expansion of oil and gas production. This increase in arrests is a result of the government’s anti-protest laws being enforced.
Liberty, a civil rights organization, denounced the massive detention of over 470 individuals, some of whom were arrested multiple times, as “unbelievable and appalling.”
According to Just Stop Oil, the demonstrations consist of slow marches on roads and are a nonviolent form of civil resistance similar to the “freedom” rides that occurred in the United States in 1961. These individuals were protesting against the segregation of public transportation.
Information collected by the Guardian in the past month shows that certain individuals have been detained in police custody for extended periods of time following their arrest.
According to the individual’s testimony to the Guardian, a 23-year-old was taken into custody within five minutes of participating in a protest on November 13th. He was then held for 56 hours before being brought before a court.
A nineteen-year-old student spent three nights in a London jail despite being granted bail by a court. The student is contemplating pursuing a claim for wrongful imprisonment.
The demonstrations during the previous four weeks coincided with the announcement in the king’s speech by the British government of their intentions to issue new licenses for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea annually.
Law enforcement officials are utilizing updated authority to conduct widespread detentions based on section 7 of the 2023 Public Order Act implemented by the Conservative government. This law prohibits any actions that disrupt or impede the functioning of crucial national infrastructure.
Based on information collected by Just Stop Oil and confirmed by the Metropolitan police, nearly half of the arrests were made under section 7. This crime may result in a maximum prison term of 12 months.
A 19-year-old individual, whose name cannot be disclosed due to legal restrictions, spent four nights in a London jail after being arrested under section 7. Following his first night in jail, he attended a court hearing via video link. Despite being granted bail by the court, he was not released and remained in prison for three more nights, as reported by a source to the Guardian.
The student stated that they believe they were unlawfully detained for three nights during that weekend and plan to pursue a legal case for false imprisonment.
A 19-year-old student, whose identity cannot be disclosed for legal purposes, was arrested and detained in a London police cell for 50 hours starting from Monday morning until Wednesday at 1pm.
After spending a full day in custody, she was charged under section 7 of the act. However, she remained in custody for an additional day and a half before being brought to court.
She recalled requesting her medication, but it was not provided to her. She asked multiple times, but one of the officers questioned why she did not have it with her. She explained that she did not anticipate being detained for an extended period of 50 hours in a cell. The officer then responded with a remark about her past actions.
“They treated me as if I were a killer, simply wanting me to experience guilt.”
According to Jun Pang, who works as a policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, individuals have the right to express their opinions on important matters. However, the large amount of arrests made in the past few weeks, particularly under the new legislation, reveals the wide and risky scope of these powers. It is alarming to witness hundreds of young demonstrators being charged with crimes solely for advocating for their beliefs.
According to Scotland Yard, 630 individuals participating in Just Stop Oil protests have been arrested since 30 October. Out of those, 328 have been charged while the remaining have been released on police bail.
According to JSO data, a minimum of 276 individuals have faced charges. Of those, 125 were charged with obstructing important national infrastructure under section 7, while 125 were charged with the lesser offense of intentionally blocking a roadway.
The organization Just Stop Oil stated that peaceful protestors are being arrested, while the true perpetrators are being protected. They also expressed concern over the approval of over 100 new oil and gas projects amidst ongoing environmental destruction.
The frequent utilization of section 7 seems to have had a negative impact on Just Stop Oil’s most recent protest campaign. On Wednesday, only a small group of six individuals showed up at Trafalgar Square, and only three of them were wearing orange bibs with the group’s logo. Two police officers were also present nearby.
When asked about the low turnout, a protester stated: “Everyone has either been arrested or has a court date.”
Rachel Payne, aged 73, stated that she had previously been incarcerated for her involvement in Just Stop Oil’s movement at the Cop27 climate negotiations held last year.
She stated that the law had limited their ability to protest. Last week, she witnessed protesters reaching the top of Whitehall, but were immediately arrested by a large number of police officers upon stepping onto the road. This occurred two days in a row.
The country is supposed to be a place of freedom, where police have a responsibility to support and allow protests. However, the protesters were not even permitted to be present.
A faculty member at a university, who is acquainted with one of the individuals who were detained, expressed their belief that invoking section 7 to justify walking on a road was excessive for a nonviolent demonstration.
According to Graham Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Leeds University, the scientific evidence for the urgency of addressing the climate crisis has been clear for a long time. As a former PhD student in the 1990s, he recognizes the need to decarbonize and reduce emissions as even more pressing now. He understands why young people are taking action in response to this urgency.
A representative from Climate Action Support Pathway, an organization that offers guidance to individuals contemplating taking action, stated that the recent use of section 7 powers was a significant trial. It was apparent that the police were prepared to utilize these powers regularly. As a result, our advice to those considering participating has shifted to reflect this change. Section 7 carries a more severe punishment of up to one year in prison, so individuals must make informed decisions about their involvement.
Inquired about the incarcerated 19-year-old student in a London correctional facility, a representative from the Ministry of Justice stated: “We are currently investigating this issue.”
The police department known as Scotland Yard stated that all decisions regarding charging, granting bail, or taking no further action against the Just Stop Oil activists were made within 24 hours. They are collaborating with magistrates courts in London and occasionally in other areas to expedite the appearance of charged activists before a magistrate. However, due to limited availability, it may not always be possible for them to appear on the same day they are charged.