Feeling powerless is a natural response in times of uncertainty. But apathy isn't an option when the very future of humankind is in jeopardy. As private firms continue to profit from practices that destroy the planet, amid government inaction over an intensifying climate crisis, mounting numbers of people are rising up in protest.
We have entered a new era of dissent, and environmental groups – such as Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future – are presenting a radical example for other movements to follow. Although considerably more action is required for politicians to actually act in any meaningful way, Parliament declared a climate emergency in May, demonstrating the impact people's voices are having.
There has, however, been a different sort of impact for several of the activists themselves. More than 1,000 XR protesters were arrested during the group's April "uprising", some have since been convicted and have a criminal record. Others have been arrested more recently in UK cities including London, Edinburgh and Bristol. A wave of further arrests can be expected during the Global Climate Strike, which starts this Friday, the 20th of September, and XR's Worldwide Rebellion in October.
But this shouldn't deter you from exercising your rights. Should you decide that getting arrested during an action is not for you, arming yourself with knowledge could help avoid such a jam. Here's a guide to your rights as a protester. Read it, learn it, take a screen grab and keep it on your phone for reference – you never know when you might need it.
YOU ARE ENTITLED TO PROTEST
The right to take part in a non-violent action in the UK is protected under the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 11: Freedom of Assembly and Association of the law says:
1: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2: No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the state.
AT A PROTEST, DO:
– Question Everything
If police ask you to do something – move from one place to another, for instance – or stop doing something – such as taking photos or video footage, ask –the officer if you are legally obliged to follow their instructions. If the answer is yes, question under what power they are asking you to do it.
Kevin Blowe, the coordinator of The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), says: "Sometimes, police rely on the fact that people will do what they say because we have a tendency to think the police always know what they're talking about."
– Avoid the Blue Bibs
Don't engage with Police Liaison Officers or Protest Liaison Officers (PLOs), the ones wearing the blue bibs. Blowe of Netpol says there is considerable evidence that they are gathering intelligence. The police say PLOs are not used for collecting data.
– Take Anything You Don't Need
Especially anything that would give police a reason to stop-and-search you. That means anything illegal, or something that can be used to commit an offence.
– Give Information to Police
You do not need to answer police questions and you do not need to give them your details, so don’t. Regardless of the questions being asked and how much pressure you're being put under, just say, "No comment." Anything you say can and will likely be used as evidence. You can be arrested for refusing to give your details or for giving false information – but this power should not be used during protests, according to the police's own guidance.
AND IF YOU'RE ARRESTED
The advice to not give comment or share personal details applies here too. However, if you are taken to a police station, you might wish to give your name, address and date of birth to speed up your release.
– Never Accept a Caution
A caution can't be applied unless you accept it, so don't (unless you are advised to do so by a trusted solicitor). Cautions are an admission of guilt and go on the police national computer, as well as your permanent record.
– Turn to Experts
Call the Green and Black Cross protest support line on 07946 541 511.
– Never Use a Duty Solicitor
You are entitled to free legal advice at a police station, but don't rely on duty solicitors because they may not have experience in protest law. You can ask police to contact specialists, such as Bindmans, Hodge Jones & Allen and Birnberg Peirce.