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Peace campaigns have hit out at the Government’s growing hostile rhetoric against protests calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, amid demands for this Saturday’s Palestine march to be banned.
Activists believe growing political pressure pushed the Met Police to urge organisers to call off this Saturday’s Palestine protest. The Met’s call on Monday night was followed by justice secretary Alex Chalk telling pro-Palestinian protesters planning to march on Armistice Day that they “should abide by” the calls from the Metropolitan Police that it not go ahead.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Monday night, march organiser Ben Jemal said: “We are conscious that the police has been put under considerable political pressure by the prime minister and the home secretary with the comments they have been making and it is difficult to see that the request from the police is not linked to that.”
Met Police boss Sir Mark Rowley is facing demands from Conservatives to ban the protest altogether, which has been met with anger from organisers including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
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On Monday night, the groups confirmed they would press ahead with plans for a march Saturday, making clear the route will not go past the Cenotaph. Those in Conservative circles have been suggesting without evidence that marchers will desecrate the war monument.
It comes against a backdrop of rising Government hostility to peaceful protest – both in its official narratives and its policies. Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove is reportedly crafting controversial plans to expand the definition of extremism to encompass anyone supporting actions that “undermine” national institutions and parliamentary democracy, according to The Observer on Sunday.
Civil liberties organisations have now sounded the alarm, suggesting that such broad terms could unfairly sweep up lawful individuals and groups, potentially “criminalising dissent.”
The Government’s hard-line stance has escalated political tensions, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Braverman both urging Met Police Chief Mark Rowley to intervene ahead of Saturday’s planned Palestine protest, while ostensibly emphasising that the ultimate decision lies with the police.
Sunak has branded the protests, which are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, “provocative and disrespectful”, adding that the “right to remember, in peace and dignity, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for those freedoms must be protected.”
But organisers argue that the rising hostility from Government figures is stoking a far-right threat.
And Labour faces its own internal revolt, with around 50 councillors resigning and counting over Sir Keir Starmer’s refusal to back a ceasefire.
Human Rights Orgs Hit Out
Human rights group Liberty has strongly condemned calls from some Government MPs to ban the upcoming pro-Palestine demonstration this coming Saturday, which is Remembrance weekend. Akiko Hart, Interim Director at Liberty, opposed the calls to ban the demonstrations.
“In a functioning democracy people must be able to stand up to power and make their voices heard. Shutting down protests would be a shocking breach of our right to freedom of expression, and would only serve to create even greater division,” Hart said.
“This would be a wildly disproportionate response from the Government and the police, especially when the proposed protest is happening at a different time and location to the Armistice Day events. It should not be up to the police to pick and choose what people can speak out about on any given day.
“The police have a duty to facilitate our right to protest, and the Government has a duty to safeguard it – neither should be using their powers to shut it down,” the human rights figure added.
Peace campaigners, including the UK’s leading pacifist organisation, Peace Pledge Union (PPU), have also rejected criticisms from figures such as PM Rishi Sunak regarding Saturday’s Remembrance Day protest.
The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) says peaceful demonstrations against war are entirely consistent with remembering the victims of war.
The PPU will be distributing white poppies on the march in London on Saturday. White poppies represent remembrance for all victims of war, both civilians and members of the armed forces, and a commitment to peace. Many white poppy wearers will also be marking the two-minute silence at 11am that day.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman stepped up the Government’s rhetoric against the successive marches against Israel’s attacks on Gaza, which themselves followed Hamas’ terrorist attacks killing around 1,400 Israeli’s. Over 10,000 Palestinians are now thought to have been killed since Israel’s counter-offensive began in early October.
And Braverman has been urged to distance herself from Douglas Murray, a commentator linked with “neo-conservative” think tank the Henry Jackson Society.
Responding to dozens of Labour resignations by Muslim councillors over Sir Keir Starmer’s refusal to endorse a ceasefire in Gaza, on Monday (November 6), Murray tweeted: “So Cllr Afrasiab Anwar is among those to resign. Amazing. Can you give us the names of the other noble councillors? Would love to know if they’re similarly solid Burnley men.”
Cllr Anwar, the leader of Burnley council, joined 11 others in resigning from the Labour party on Sunday over Labour’s stance on the Israel/Gaza war. Starmer has rejected calls for a ceasefire, instead backing ‘humanitarian pauses’ to allow in more aid.
In September, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman defended Murray in the Commons, telling MPs that he has “mainstream, insightful and perfectly decent political views.”
Discussing changes to the Government’s ‘Prevent’ anti-terrorism program, Braverman told MPs it was inappropriate for the hard-right writer to be listed in a Home Office document alongside activists “associated with far-right-sympathetic audiences”.
Murray has previously come under fire for comments made during a 2006 address to the Dutch parliament, where he suggested that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board.”
Braverman’s own characterisation of pro-Palestine marches as “hate marches” has been met with fierce disapproval by groups who view this as a gross misrepresentation of their cause – and a threat to the right to peaceful protest.
Braverman told Sky on Friday: “If anyone were to vandalise the Cenotaph, they must be put into a jail cell faster than their feet can touch the ground”. Organisers have made clear their opposition to any desecration of war monuments.
On calls to ban Saturday’s PSC/Stop the War march, she added: “I think I’ve been pretty clear that these are hate marches. They are, I think, chanting of jihad on the streets of Britain in the 21st century is utterly despicable. And I don’t see how any decent person or how the vast majority of the British people can find that to be acceptable behaviour. It’s sickening.”
There have been a handful of reports of individual protesters who have shouted the word ‘jihad’ during the Palestine protests over the past month, but there appears to be no evidence it is a common chant on the marches. Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands have attended in total.
“Hypocritical” to Back Commemorations and Condemn Peace Marchers
The Peace Pledge Union has slammed the alleged hypocrisy of Sunak’s administration, which “defends the ‘sanctity of Armistice Day’ and the ‘right to remember’, even as it provides military support and diplomatic cover for Israeli war crimes in Gaza.”
Saturday’s Remembrance Day march, set to proceed from Hyde Park to the US embassy, aims to advocate for a ceasefire and uphold international law, organisers say.
In a statement over the weekend, they said: “Our next national march will take place on Saturday November 11th, 2023. We have made clear that we have no intention of marching on or near Whitehall, in order not to disrupt events at the Cenotaph.
“Our planned route is Hyde Park to the US embassy, and we anticipate that the march will begin around 12.45PM, nearly 2 hours after the minute silence of commemoration for the war dead.
“Given these facts, we are alarmed by members of the Government, including the Prime Minister, issuing statements suggesting that the march is a direct threat to the Cenotaph and designed to disrupt the Remembrance Day commemorations.
“Such statements are encouraging the calls from far-rights activists and commentators who appear to be inciting action on the streets to stop the protests taking place and are deeply irresponsible,” the groups said in a statement.
The Public Order Act 2023 and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act have both introduced new “draconian” powers to restrict people’s rights to peaceful protest.
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