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21 climate activists receive criminal sentences for peaceful assembly in UK

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that just a week after a UN independent expert recommended that the United Kingdom review its public order legislation, 21 climate activists have received criminal sentences under the offence of “aggravated trespass” for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

“Today's sentencing underscores how important it is for the government to review the laws on protest in the UK. Just a week ago an independent UN expert expressed great concern about the use of aggravated trespass against people staging legitimate protests” said Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19's Executive Director.

“The UK is required by international law to promote the right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, that includes not dishing out criminal sanctions against non-violent activists” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

On 6 June 2013, 21 activists from the No Dash for Gas pressure group who occupied EDF's West Burton power station for a week were sentenced. 16 received community service orders while 5 others received conditional discharges.

All 21 of the No Dash for Gas activists have plead guilty to charges of “aggravated trespass.” Section 68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 makes it an offence to trespass on land and do anything there that intimidates, obstructs or disrupts the lawful activity of others on that land. Sanctions of up to 3 months in prison or fines are available as sanctions.

The sentencing comes one week after the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, Maina Kiai, presented to the UN Human Rights Council a report on his country visit to the United Kingdom.

Kiai's report stresses that just because a protest causes a business to lose money, it does not mean that the protest should be considered unlawful.

Kiai also expressed “great concern” at the use of “aggravated trespass” against legitimate acts of peaceful protest, such as the case of 138 activists who were arrested under this provision for occupying Fortnum and Mason in March 2011. He states that this was all the more troubling in the context of the increasing privatisation of public space in the United Kingdom.

He also recommended that the UK government stop using civil injunctions to prevent acts of peaceful protest in the future, including in cases against climate activists and the “occupy” movement. ARTICLE 19 notes that the Crown Prosecution Service unsuccessfully pursued Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) against the 21 No Dash for Gas activists – a move which the sentencing judge rejected.

ARTICLE 19 reiterates its call on the UK government to review its public order laws in light of the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur.

Read the UN experts report in full here

Read the UK response to UN experts report here

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