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Ministers have announced that new laws will grant police additional authority to detain demonstrators wearing face masks in efforts to reduce disorder.
Protesters who refuse to comply with a mandate to take off their mask may face imprisonment for 30 days and a fine of up to £1,000.
Those who participate in a protest will not be allowed to possess pyrotechnics such as fireworks, flares, and smoke. If they are found using them, they may face arrest.
Engaging in disruptive behavior, such as obstructing roadways and individuals attaching themselves to objects, will now be considered a criminal offense under the extensive crackdown. This measure aims to target not only political demonstrators, but also those protesting environmental causes.
In November of last year, individuals ignited fireworks into groups of people and directed them towards law enforcement during a conflict between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and authorities in London.
Video footage showed flares being launched towards a row of law enforcement officials, causing the Metropolitan Police to issue a directive for the crowd to disperse.
The police department also issued a directive granting officers the authority to demand that individuals remove any object used to cover their face, such as a mask.
Law enforcement leaders have previously expressed concern that certain demonstrators utilize masks to conceal their identities and instill fear in others, while also evading legal consequences.
In England and Wales, the recent legislation grants police the authority to arrest any protester who fails to comply with a request to remove a mask if there is suspicion of potential criminal activity.
The Home Office states that individuals who violate an order may be sentenced to one month in jail and a fine of £1,000.
According to officials, protesters can no longer use their right to protest as a justification for committing disruptive offenses, such as obstructing roads.
Starting in 2021, the Conservatives have been making protest actions by environmental activists more punishable by law.
However, senior police and crime commissioners previously stated that the authority to control protests was unnecessary and excessive. This latest announcement is expected to incite frustration among activists and groups advocating for human rights, climate change, and other issues.
Under the new measures, the possession of flares, fireworks and any other pyrotechnics at public processions and protests will be banned, with perpetrators facing £1,000 fine.
Climbing on memorials dedicated to war will now be considered a distinct offense against public order, punishable by a three-month jail term and a fine of £1,000.
Recently, there have been instances of protesters climbing national monuments.
The home secretary, James Cleverly, stated that there have been recent protests where a small group aimed to cause harm and intimidate the law-abiding majority.
The ability to peacefully protest is highly valued in our country. However, bringing flares to marches with the intention of causing harm and disturbance is not a form of protest, but rather a dangerous act.
This is the reason why we are granting police authority to stop any criminal activity on our streets.
The proposals were welcomed by Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington, who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council leader for public order. He stated that these new powers will only be utilized when necessary and in a reasonable and appropriate manner to achieve policing goals.
“Law enforcement is not against peaceful protests, however there is a distinction between protest and illegal activism. We are dedicated to promptly and efficiently addressing those who intentionally disrupt the lives of others with careless and criminal behaviors.”
Since October 7th, there have been over 1,000 protests and vigils in response to Hamas’ attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,200 people. According to official records, these events have required 26,000 shifts for police officers between October 7th and December 17th, and have led to 600 arrests.
The previous year, the act of “locking on” was made illegal and law enforcement was granted authority to stop and frisk demonstrators for objects like padlocks and superglue.
The 2022 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act also simplified addressing public disturbances caused by demonstrators.
According to police statistics, 657 individuals were taken into custody under the Public Order Act 2023 during the 2020 Just Stop Oil campaign.