The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a piece of legislation proposed by Boris Johnson’s Conservative government in the United Kingdom. In short, the Bill, if passed, would impose severe restrictions on the right to protest in the UK.
Particularly concerning is Clause 59 of the Bill, which would criminalize a protest which causes or risks causing “serious distress, annoyance, inconvenience, or loss of amenity” with a sentence of up to ten years in prison. The wording of this is of course vague and up to broad interpretation. What is the purpose of a protest, if not to make the voice of the people heard? A protest that causes no disturbance to the status quo, and which does not threaten the power of the regime, is toothless and not likely to be taken seriously.
For context, the charge of rioting in Hong Kong under the Public Order Ordinance carries a maximum prison sentence of ten years.
After the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and the subsequent government repression and crackdown on political freedoms and civil rights, many Hongkongers have fled to the United Kingdom as political asylum-seekers, or as emigrants under the BNO scheme.
Here, we see an attempt by the ruling class to impose a piece of legislation on the people that would limit their democratic freedoms and rights in order to suppress political opposition. As it is with the Chinese Communist Party and the National Security Law, so is it with the illiberal Conservative government and their Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
As it is with the Chinese Communist Party and the National Security Law, so is it with the illiberal Conservative government and their Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Some would argue that these two examples are not comparable. After all, the Chinese Communist Party presides over an authoritarian one-party dictatorship, whereas the Conservative Party resides within a democratic system with free elections and constitutional checks and balances. This is true; the Conservative Party is not the CCP, nor is their Police Bill as draconian as the National Security Law.
However, as activists and citizens fighting for the right to democracy and freedom of expression, which we have seen eroded at and abolished wholesale in Hong Kong, we cannot turn a blind eye to any encroachment on political or civil rights anywhere in the world. The Police Bill must be condemned as a step towards authoritarianism that would suffocate political freedoms in the UK as they have been in Hong Kong.
As a matter of political strategy, should we refrain from criticizing the UK government when it has spoken out in support of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and condemned the CCP’s attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy, as well as offering Hongkongers a refuge by way of their BNO scheme?
The logic of ‘the enemy of the enemy is my friend’ is insidious and toxic. It is true that Western governments and leaders, most notably Donald Trump and the Republican Party, have fiercely criticized the CCP. But it is also true that they are enemies of democratic values and basic human decency. Donald Trump has undermined the foundations of American democracy by baselessly disputing the legitimacy of the US Presidential Elections, resulting in the Capitol Riot, and has also defended police brutality during the BLM protests. Through the Police Bill, Boris Johnson would readily suppress the freedom of protest in the UK even while he condemns the political system and human rights abuses of China.
Therefore, if Hongkongers believe that we are indeed fighting for freedom and democracy, we must condemn the Police Bill as a piece of legislation that would attack these very values we claim to cherish and uphold.