UK threatens pro-Palestine protesters who 'cover their face' with jail in chilling new law

UK threatens pro-Palestine protesters who 'cover their face' with jail in chilling new law
The UK prime minister has continued his crackdown on pro-Palestine protests, saying those who hide their identity could face jail
4 min read
09 February, 2024
Pro-Palestine protests have been held almost weekly in London [Getty]

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has threatened pro-Palestine protesters with jail if they cover their faces and said police would be given further powers. 

The new law could see protesters who 'hide their identities' facing jail in a chilling move that has sparked fears about free speech in the UK. 

In a video published on his official social media platforms, Sunak claimed that since 7 October, pro-Palestine demonstrations have represented "far too many appalling examples of antisemitism, violent intimidation and the glorification of terrorism". 

He warned that "those who abuse their freedom to protest undermine public safety and our democratic values". 

It comes after the UK Home Office outlined the new protest laws against wearing face coverings with threats of a month in jail and £1,000 fine. 

Climbing on war memorials will be registered as a public order offensive, while fireworks, flares, and other pyrotechnics will also be banned.

However, according to current government guidelines, face coverings "in crowded and enclosed spaces" are suggested to be worn as a result of the Covid outbreak

Live Story

While not legally required, face coverings worn in crowded areas that "safely covers the nose and mouth" were recommended and were said to apply when "made with multiple layers (at least 2 and preferably 3) and form a good fit around the nose and mouth".

The guidelines emphasised that even scarves, bandanas, or religious garments are more effective when worn in multiple layers while valved masks were not advised for protection. 

“The right to protest is paramount in our country, but taking flares to marches to cause damage and disruption is not protest, it is dangerous,” British Home Secretary James Cleverly said. 

“We welcome the proposal to create new offences relating to war memorials and flares, as well as making it clear that covering your face at a protest to conceal identity is not acceptable,” National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Public Order, BJ Harrington added. 

“These changes are in-line with conversations that we have had with the Home Office to ensure that we have the powers that we need to get balance right between the rights of those who wish to protest, and those impacted by them.” 

However, pro-Palestine rights groups have denounced the latest takedown of pro-Palestine protests, that has raised concerns that civil liberties could be infringed

Ben Jamal, the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has criticised the proposals, saying it is "designed to deter all those who protest and seek to hold those who abuse power to account". 

"The government proposals to extend police powers are further evidence of its increasingly repressive attitude to the right of protest as a whole, and in particular its efforts to demonise those currently marching to call for a ceasefire and an end to Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza," he said. 

"No Government truly committed to democratic freedoms would introduce restrictive measures over the right to protest without compelling and evidenced reasons to do so."

Jamal explained that the new laws to restrict those wearing face coverings do not account for "people, particularly from marginalised communities, may choose to wear face coverings in public". 

This comes after reports of censorship and criminalisation allegedly leading to an increase in anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim discrimination in the West.  There have also been reporters of pro-Palestine supporters facing assaults, employment discrimination, and doxxing

Despite accusations of violence and antisemitic rhetoric in pro-Palestine protests- the UK, as well as in other countries such as the US, Germany and France have consisted of Jewish alliances like the Jewish Voice for Peace, Na'amod, and Tsedek!

Such groups have continually condemned state racism both at home and in Israel-Palestine.

They also have challenged the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism that is being used to silence Palestinian solidarity, saying loud and clear: "Not in our name."

"But will not waver in our determination to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, including by mobilising large groups of people to call for an end to the genocide in Gaza," Jamal added. 

"We will not allow these measures to deter us."