The UK government’s new ‘Policing Bill’ is an unprecedented extension of policing powers that clearly uses the threat of imprisonment to deter peaceful protest. 

In criminalizing acts of protest, the Policing Bill is an alarmingly authoritarian attack on democracy and civil space at a time when action to avert the climate crisis is urgently needed. 

Climate groups have successfully used protest to call on the government to introduce policies to reverse climate change, however the Policing Bill will silence them. The possibility of imprisonment for the nonviolent tactics used by climate groups to speak out on climate change is deeply concerning not only for our fundamental freedoms, but also for our ability to speak out on the abuses of power and political inaction that continue to have a devastating impact on our climate.

The Bill comes just months after the UK hosted COP26, where Boris Johnson urged world leaders to tackle the climate crisis and protect the planet for young people and future generations. However, by introducing laws that seek to criminalize those protesting against climate degradation, including youth climate defenders, the Policing Bill completely undermines the leadership demonstrated by the UK at COP26. 

Climate strike march organised by Fridays for Future during COP26.JPG

Climate strike march organised by Fridays for Future Scotland during COP26 on 5 November 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland.

Global Witness’ ten years of documenting deadly attacks against land and environmental defenders indicates a clear global trend towards authoritarianism: protesters, particularly land and environmental defenders, are facing increasing criminalization, stigmatisation and violence. In countries around the world such as Brazil, India, Mexico and Philippines, we have witnessed how governments are abusing existing laws and promulgating new laws to limit fundamental human rights with deadly consequences for land and environmental defenders standing up to irresponsible governments and corporate actors to protect their land from destruction.

The Policing Bill encourages a worldview in which defenders are perceived as enemies of the state instead of enablers of healthier and more participative democracies. Instead of pursuing laws that restrict domestic human rights activism, the UK government should promote democracy at home and support land and environmental defenders globally, whilst adhering to the guidelines it put forward in 2019 to support human rights defenders around the world. 

Despite the UK government’s attempt to silence what it has deemed as ‘noise’, our democratic right to protest must be protected if we are to see the transformational change needed to avert the climate crisis. We urge you to act now. 

Make your voice heard - write to your local MP in opposition of this authoritarian and anti-democratic bill.

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