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25 February 2005

A law to end all lawfulness

George Monbiot, in Protest as Harassment raises an important but overlooked (in the media) issue about the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. While attention has focused almost exclusively on the admittedly problematic religious incitement provisions, most people have not noticed that, by clever redefinitions of offences, the Bill pretty much outlaws all forms of peaceful protest and makes free speech a crime. The most basic activities of peaceful protest are now defined as criminal harrassment; it is only necessary, for example, to hand a handbill making a valid point to two people to be guilty of "harrassing" the public 'in order “to persuade any person … not to do something that he is entitled or required to do, or to do something that he is not under any obligation to do.” ' And the public itself does not have to complain of being harrassed; under this law, the McDonald's libel action against Dave Morris and Helen Steel that was recently overturned on human rights grounds would not even have been needed. McDonald's could have just had the two activists locked up for criminal activity.

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