If peaceful protest is a fundamental human right, why is it that political groups like the English Defence League (EDL) are constantly banned from protesting and groups such as United Against Fascism (UAF) may march where they please? WNOL investigates whether rights to freedom of expression and assembly were impinged upon by the government, as the latest EDL demo took place last Saturday in front of parliament.
The static demo saw about 100 people protesting against Islamic extremism, after the original protest in Walthamstow was banned by Policing Minister Damian Green. In addition, the ban prevents the EDL from marching in several boroughs, including Islington and Waltham Forest, for 30 days. Frustrated with the ban, the EDL believe their demonstrations are peaceful, but turn violent only when opposition groups show up.
“We are banned from Walthamstow because the UAF and the Muslim community bombard the authorities with threats of violence when we attend demos,” Gail Angel, an EDL protester, told WNOL. “Normally, when we go to a demonstration it is usually these groups that kick off.”
The UAF, however, were allowed to march in Walthamstow on the same day to what initially was called a “celebration of multiculturalism”, but their website clearly stated it was an anti-EDL march. Members of the UAF also turned up at the protest by Parliament, but were quickly dispersed by police and violent clashes between groups were avoided.
However, UAF argues that the EDL should not be allowed to protest because they are “racist, fascist liars who are a danger to us all.” They argue that the EDL’s “core supporters are members of football hooligan firms who have joined forces to form a racist street army”.
Prior to the banned protest in Walthamstow, 53 EDL members travelling to protest outside a mosque in Whitechapel on October 22 were arrested on their way to London. According to the Metropolitan Police, the arrests were made in suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance.
The EDL sees these arrests as a “breach of freedom of expression”, believing that they are being specifically targeted while other groups are not.
“On Facebook for example, many groups post violent threats everyday and no one gets arrested,” another EDL member told WNOL. “If someone from the EDL puts a drunken comment or whatever, they get arrested. We have no human rights, no freedom of expression”.
Moreover, according to our sources, part of bail conditions of an arrested EDL members is, “to not attend demonstrations.” The London Met confirmed the fact that those arrested were bailed “on the condition they do not enter East London to demonstrate for a stipulated period of time”.
Human rights organisation, Article 19, have in the past commented on a similar situation, when the EDL was banned from protesting for 30 days in September 2011. Article 19 referred to the 2011 blanket ban as “both broad and excessive, and in violation of both international and UK laws on freedom of expression and assembly.”
The statement, published last year and provided by Article 19 to WNOL, also expresses concern as “any curbing of human rights, including blanket bans on protests in the capital, sends out a dangerous message about the UK’s human rights commitments.”
After the protest, the EDL gathered at the St Stephen’s Tavern pub for drinks with fellow members, however after an hour or so they were asked to leave by the Metropolitan Police, increasing tensions and beliefs that they are being targeted for no reason.
“I can understand where the police are coming from,” said one of the members. “But at the end of the day we’re just here having a drink. We are attracting the opposition, which is why they are trying to disperse us”.
Metropolitan Police Constable Leon told WNOL that “the police are within their rights to ask members of the public to leave a licensed premises if they anticipate violence.”
The Section 14 Public Order Act 1986, handed out as a piece of paper to demonstrators prior to the march, demanded that the EDL adhere to conditions such as assembling for no longer than one hour, in order to “prevent serious public disorder”.
“All we want is fairness, for us to be treated in the same way that other groups are,” an EDL member told WNOL.
Whether or not you agree with the EDL’s politics, do you feel that all groups should have equal rights to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest?
By Sumy Sadurni
Photos by Sumy Sadurni