Police have utilized their recently acquired authority to detain climate activists for the first time.
More than 60 climate activists were taken into custody by the police for participating in a slow march outside of parliament, marking the first instance of the use of strict new measures against protests.
The Metropolitan police invoked section 7 of the Public Order Act 2023 to halt a Just Stop Oil demonstration on Monday morning. This section prohibits any action that disrupts the functioning of key national infrastructure in England and Wales.
According to Just Stop Oil, police started making arrests after forming a line and trying to move protesters off the road. The campaign shared pictures and videos of officers kneeling on and handcuffing protesters, as well as taking them to police vans.
The spokesperson for Just Stop Oil stated that the campaign will not be discouraged by the police’s reaction. They also declared that their supporters will persist until their request for a halt on new oil and gas licenses is fulfilled.
The spokesperson stated that the supporters of Just Stop Oil are prepared to participate in a peaceful march that may result in their arrest. They will continue to do so every day until the authorities take action against the true offenders – those who are allowing the development of new oil and gas, despite knowing the detrimental impact it will have on hundreds of millions of lives.
According to a statement from the campaign group, Just Stop Oil, 65 of its followers started a march around Parliament Square at 10am. However, at 10:10am, several Metropolitan police officers arrived and forcefully directed the Just Stop Oil supporters back and created a barrier across the road.
“At 10:37am, the police started making arrests and detained 65 individuals. Peaceful supporters of Just Stop Oil were dragged across the pavement and restrained by officers who knelt and sat on them.”
On the social media platform X, formerly referred to as Twitter, the Metropolitan Police announced that their officers responded to a protest within four minutes of receiving a report and proceeded to detain individuals. 61 people were arrested and are currently still in custody as of Monday afternoon.
The Metropolitan Police’s implementation of the recently enacted Public Order Act during Just Stop Oil’s demonstrations represents a notable increase in their measures to address the climate protest movement. In the past, the police relied on section 12 of the former Public Order Act, which granted senior officers the authority to impose restrictions on protest marches.
Netpol, an organization that watches over the policing of protests, stated on X: “The Metropolitan Police used to use their authority to impose restrictions on public assemblies, but now they are choosing to use the new offense outlined in the Public Order Act of 2023 regarding interference with the operation of essential national infrastructure, such as the road network.”
It may not be immediately apparent, but if you choose to demonstrate on public roads without obtaining prior permission, you may be arrested by the police for disrupting ‘essential national structures’. This may not happen every time, but it is more likely if you are part of a group that is viewed as ‘aggressive activists’.
“These new offenses are highly repressive as they have the power to abruptly end a protest and label all participants as criminals.”
Jun Pang, the officer responsible for policy and campaigns at the rights organization Liberty, expressed concern about the use of this new authority. According to Pang, this is a dangerous increase in efforts to suppress the right to protest, as individuals could now potentially face up to a year in prison for peacefully advocating for their beliefs.
We each have the privilege to express our opinions on important matters, but these detentions are a blatant effort to label individuals as criminals for exercising this right. By implementing these fresh regulations, the government is making it increasingly challenging for citizens to challenge authority. The ability to protest is a basic right, not something granted by the government.