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Banning pro-Palestine march on Armistice Day seriously risks wider public disorder, UN warns 

UN expert on protest rights tells The Big Issue it's "worrying" to brand ceasefire protests as "hate marches"

palestine protest, armistice day

Protesters in central London, May 2021. Image: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr

Banning a planned pro-Palestine protest on Armistice Day would risk wider public disorder, the UN’s expert on protest rights has warned, in the wake of accusations that the government is pressuring police to stop the march.

The government should allow the protest to take place on Saturday (11 November) as planned and avoid painting protests as “hate marches”, said Clément Voule, the UN’s special rapporteur for the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Rishi Sunak’s government is embroiled in controversy after home secretary Suella Braverman attacked the Met police for “playing favourites” over its decision – so far – not to ban the march.

“When I read the position of the government, my reaction is that you cannot presume that people going on the streets will be violent, or will be acting unlawfully,” Voule, appointed by the UN as an independent expert, told The Big Issue.

“Any government should not presume the unlawfulness of the protest. Protest is a fundamental freedom and should be exercised in any democratic society.”

Labour has accused Braverman of trying to command the police, after she said police should adopt an “assertive and proactive approach” to the march and that anybody vandalising the Cenotaph “must be put into a jail cell faster than their feet can touch the ground”.

Expected to draw hundreds of thousands to central London, the march is not due to pass near the Cenotaph. Police are able to apply to the home secretary for a ban on the protest using the Public Order Act, but Rowley has said there is currently insufficient evidence to do so. However, Rowley has not ruled out a change of course before Saturday.

The home secretary, whose job is under pressure in the midst of a row over unsanctioned comments on the march, has repeatedly described pro-Palestine protests as “hate marches”.

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“It’s quite easy for any government to portray a protest you don’t like as a hate protest,” said Voule, who added: “It’s quite worrying, this presumption to say that this protest will be a hate protest. This position is quite worrying for democracy itself, and the exercise of rights in a democratic society”.

Sunak said the march is “provocative and disrespectful”, and said he would hold Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley “accountable” for allowing the protest, but added the march is set to go ahead.

Despite some criminality from “small groups attaching themselves to demonstrations”, Rowley said the organisers of Saturday’s protest, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, had no intention of disrupting remembrance events.

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Voule warned that banning the march could make any potential disorder worse. Instead, the police and government should let the protest go ahead and prosecute any unlawful behaviour after the fact.

“If you ban this Palestinian protest, believe me next time no one will exercise their right to inform the police before. Everyone will go on the streets,” said Voule.

“If people feel they are prevented from exercising these rights without any justification or any legal basis, then next time they will not follow the law any more. They will come on the streets and this will pose a serious threat for public order,” said Voule.

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