Thousands gather to protest against Covid lockdown in London

Figcaption Thousands Gather To Protest Against Covid Lockdown In London
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

Thousand marched under a heavy police presence through central London in protest against lockdown on Saturday, with officers leading small numbers of people away in handcuffs.

Demonstrators gathered at Speakers’ Corner by Hyde Park at about midday, where the anti-lockdown figurehead Piers Corbyn gave a speech saying he would “never take a vaccine” and falsely claiming that the scale of deaths from Covid was not dissimilar to those from flu each year.

As police surrounded him and detained a number of people as they ordered demonstrators to disperse, the crowd then marched out of the park and through London from Marble Arch.

The march came as 62 MPs and peers wrote to the home secretary on Friday saying that allowing the police to criminalise people for protesting was “not acceptable and is arguably not lawful”, in a letter coordinated by Liberty and Big Brother Watch.

They said the right to protest was enshrined in human rights law, amid growing scrutiny of police tactics after officers forcibly dispersed demonstrators at a vigil for Sarah Everard last week.

The specific exemption to coronavirus regulations in England allowing the right to protest was removed in November, but some legal experts have said it remains a “reasonable excuse” for leaving home. It is widely accepted that transmission of coronavirus is far less likely outdoors.

At Saturday’s demonstration, police appeared to apprehend relatively small numbers of people by 2pm as a helicopter hovered above.

The crowd marched through Hyde Park and through London from Marble Arch. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Other protests were expected to take place elsewhere in the UK.

The Met tweeted that officers were “engaging with those gathering around Piccadilly and other areas of central London to protest, explaining that we remain in a public health crisis and urging people to disperse or go home”.

It said previously: “Current government legislation makes gatherings in groups of more than two people unlawful, unless exemptions apply. Gathering for the purpose of a protest is not an exception under the Covid-19 regulations. The right to protest must be balanced against the rights of others and the protection of public health.”

A high court judge last week suggested that the human rights of expression and gathering might be considered reasonable excuses in some circumstances, with the Metropolitan police accepting there was no blanket ban on protest.

If people are not distancing, however, it may become explicitly illegal according to the regulations. Campaigners say the police should work to facilitate Covid-safe demonstrations. Previous demonstrations have been broken up by police.

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The letter to Priti Patel was signed by several Conservative MPs, including Steve Baker and Christopher Chope, along with the Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, and a number of Labour MPs and peers, including Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti.

It urged Patel to immediately “expressly exempt protests from restrictions on gatherings in all tier areas” and highlighted the current situation, in which deeming the legality of a protest is the responsibility of the police on a case-by-case basis.

“There is no legal certainty for the police as regards their duties and powers, and no legal certainty for protesters as regards their rights. This is not acceptable and is arguably not lawful,” the letter said.

Sam Grant, the head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “We must all be able to stand up to power and have our voices heard. In a healthy democracy, protest is a critical way we can fight for what we believe in. The government’s current quasi-ban on protest is completely unacceptable.”

Referring to the policing bill, which passed its second reading in the Commons this week despite opposition from more than 150 human rights charities, unions and faith communities, as well as Labour, Grant added: “Using short-term restrictions on protest to stifle dissent while they pass permanent ones is as absurd as it is authoritarian.”

Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, said: “A country cannot be described as a democracy if people do not have the freedom to protest. The harrowing scenes of police officers using force against women at Clapham Common recently were avoidable and wrong. Over the past week, many more demonstrators and even legal observers have been arrested or fined.”

But the Home Office has maintained, in comments to the BBC, that “while we are still in a pandemic we continue to urge people to avoid mass gatherings, in line with wider coronavirus restrictions”.

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