UK police using 'excessive force' against Palestine protestors, activists say
Activists staging a week-long demonstration outside a subsidiary of Israeli arms firm Elbit Systems in the UK have accused British police of using excessive force to crack down on their right to protest.
Palestine Action organised the sit-in outside UAV Tactical Systems last week in a bid to shut down the factory, where hundreds of protestors have joined and dozens have set up camp.
Police confiscated some of the protestors' equipment and imposed several conditions on the protest that came into force on 30 April.
On Wednesday, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Network for Police Monitoring (NETPOL) issued a statement slamming the police actions as "outrageous".
‘You can't write poems about trees when the woods are full of policemen.’ Bertolt Brecht— Shareefa Energy (@ShareefaEnergy) May 3, 2023
Leicestershire police yesterday at the @Pal_action Elbit siege being heavy handed. They confiscated people’s tents but the people continued the siege and still slept in front of the factory pic.twitter.com/WridGCL9ML
"The policing operation in Leicester against Palestine Action is outrageous. We not only have a right, but a duty to protest against immoral arms sales," said Emily Apple, CAAT’s media coordinator.
"People in Leicester are rightly angry about having a weapons factory on their doorstep and they should be allowed to express this anger without police harassment. However, the police are showing, once again, that they are there to protect the interests of arms dealers whilst stamping over our right to dissent."
On Sunday, Leicestershire Police imposed several conditions on the protest, including limiting access to the assembly area and restricting areas where structures can be erected.
Activists took to social media to highlight the police's confiscation of their equipment, which was later replaced by local people who came to their aid.
"Police took everything but Leicester’s Muslim community brought us beds, mats, sleeping bags, food | still here #ShutElbitDown hell yeah!" tweeted activist Sarah Wilkinson on Wednesday.
The New Arab reached out to Leicestershire Police for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
Increased police powers
CAAT and Netpol added that the right to protest is under threat in the UK, warning that the government's new Public Order Act will restrict protest to the "most minor inconveniences".
The law threatens those who lock or attach themselves to public buildings or infrastructure six-month prison sentence or an unlimited fine, and empowers police to stop and search protestors.
"We are increasingly worried that the police will interpret what they decide is 'serious disruption' in the most restrictive way and then use the sweeping powers granted to them by the new Public Order Act to close down any demonstrations organised by groups considered a 'threat'", said Kevin Blowe, Netpol’s Campaigns Coordinator.
"On top of new, more severe offences and even more new police powers, this also leads to a massive increase in police surveillance. We are witnessing the criminalisation of entire movements in order to send a warning that civil disobedience tactics – in any circumstances – are liable to result in an aggressive response from the police."
Parts of the anti-protest law came into force on Wednesday.
Last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk described the new law as "worrying", warning that it "appears to target in particular peaceful actions used by those protesting about human rights and environmental issues".