Yves here. In classic “never let a crisis go to waste” fashion, Home Secretary Suella Braverman is strongly urging UK police to arrest protestors who wave the Palestinian flag or voice pro-Palestine chants. Last I checked, Palestine was not Hamas nor had Hamas to my knowledge, despite its run of heinous conduct, threatened the UK or even Israel citizens living in the UK. The logic of her objection reads as astonishingly strained but perhaps the Public Order Act is so sweeping as to allow for interpretations like that.
By Nandini Archer, an active member of the feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut who previously worked with the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, and Anita Mureithi, a reporter at openDemocracy. Originally published at openDemocracy
Palestine solidarity groups in London have told openDemocracy they will “fly their flags high” this weekend, despite Suella Braverman ordering police to crack down on their protests.
The home secretary suggested that waving Palestinian flags and using popular pro-Palestine slogans could be illegal under the Public Order Act in a letter to police chiefs in England and Wales on Tuesday.
Campaigners said the letter had set a “dangerous precedent” in denying democratic rights, but that they still expected “tens of thousands” to march through the capital in support of Palestine on Saturday. It comes as Israel lays siege to Gaza in the wake of an unprecedented attack by Hamas at the weekend.
The director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, one of the six groups organising the rally, branded Braverman’s letter an “assault on the basic right of British citizens to show solidarity for the Palestinian people’s legitimate desire to have their rights realised”.
Speaking to this website, Ben Jamal added that police officers enacting Braverman’s orders would be denying “the right of Palestinians to fly a flag which is the symbol both of their nationhood and struggle for liberation”.
Ismail Patel, chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa, another of the protest’s co-organisers, also pointed out that protesters who stood against the British government’s war against Afghanistan and Iraq “were never obstructed from voicing our opinions like this”.
Patel called for “people to join the protest in London on Saturday with Palestinian flags held high”.
In her letter, Braverman encouraged police “to consider whether chants such as ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world, and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated section 5 public order offence”.
Such offences are punishable by fines of up to £2,500 or up to two years in prison.
Braverman also instructed police to consider the “context” of a person waving a Palestinian flag, saying it may be “legitimate in some circumstances”, but that it could also be “intended to glorify acts of terrorism”.
Sam Fowles of Cornerstone Barristers told openDemocracy he expected to see a rise in arrests at Palestine solidarity protests as a result.
“People like myself and others warned that if MPs voted for the Public Order Act, then there was the potential that the politicians or police could simply use those powers to just shut down any sort of protest that they didn’t like, for political reasons. And that seems to be what’s happening here,” he said.
Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, another group organising the march on Saturday, said it is of “great concern to our democracy” that the “political views of the government should entitle them to suppress legitimate views”.
“Freedom of speech, the right to protest – that can’t be allowed to be eroded… Everyone will lose if democratic freedoms are worn away,” she said.
Three arrests were made earlier in the week at another large protest outside the Israeli embassy.
In a statement about the arrests released before Braverman’s letter was published, the Metropolitan Police said “the waving of a particular flag is not, in itself, a specific criminal offence unless it relates to a proscribed organisation”.
It added that it was “balancing the right to lawful protest against any disruption to Londoners, while ensuring all communities are supported and reassured”.
The London Muslim Community Foundation, which represents 1.3 million Muslims, said it was last night reassured by senior Met officers that the Palestinian flag was not a proscribed terrorist flag, in an indicator of a possible split between the Home Office and police leadership.