UK's Anti-Democratic Legislation Undermines Right to Protest and Free Speech

The UK government's new anti-democratic legislation, including the Public Order Act 2023 and the Online Safety Bill, are being criticized for their broad and ill-defined powers that could suppress protests and restrict free speech online. The Public Order Act has already been used to arrest protesters and confiscate innocent items, while the Online Safety Bill's provisions could lead to censorship of legal content and surveillance of private messages. Critics are calling on parliamentarians to act to protect citizens' rights.

The recent arrests of Republic's members and volunteers from Night Stars demonstrate the danger of rushing through ill-defined legislation. Under the new Public Order Act 2023, possessing everyday objects could be considered an offense, making it easier for the police to close down protests and suppress dissent. This builds on the draconian powers given to the police under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

The Online Safety Bill is another example of broad and ill-defined legislation that threatens our privacy, security and freedom of expression online. The bill's provisions could compel social media companies to remove illegal content before it's even posted, using upload filters that can potentially remove lawful content. This could also impact our right to assembly in the UK, as photographs and videos of protests could be identified as an offense under Section 5 of the Public Order Act and removed from online platforms.

The UK government's recent assault on protest rights and the proposed adoption of surveillance powers similar to those used in China are alarming. WhatsApp, Signal, and Element have already stated they will withdraw their services rather than comply with the government's demands to weaken their end-to-end encryption. We need to act now to prevent a further attack on our rights.