In cooperation with defenders in the UK, Not1More has documented over 400 incidents of violence, surveillance and harassment of peaceful protestors. Our work began as a result of UK anti-fracking protestors connecting with us after experiencing violence at the hands of police. In the early days of the anti-fracking protests, there was trust in the police among local people and a hope that they would protect protestors from assaults by fracking-site employees and security guards. Already haulage drivers had driven dangerously at peaceful protestors without being charged for these actions. One account from a protestor includes a lorry driver hitting and hospitalising a fracking company’s own employee, mistaking them for a protestor, and another account includes a security guard saving a protestor’s life pulling them out from underneath a lorry driving directly at a line of protestors. Local residents and protestors reported that police did not alleviate the situation, or respond to these dangerous acts. Rather, they used heavy handed tactics that had the effect of ‘chilling’ protests. In line with various Memorandums of Understanding between the police and fracking companies, the effect was to facilitate private industry and suppress peaceful protest, before the moratorium on fracking was announced in November 2019.
Following COVID 19 we saw new public health regulations being used in such a way that it intimidated not only protestors, but also people passing by. Many fewer people were attending or involving themselves with peaceful protest. As the number of witnesses reduced, it was reported that acts of violence increased. In April, N1M was sent statements and footage of violence, at the hands of the police, security and bailiffs, incidents included splitting scalps, and chocking protestors in front of helpless onlookers.
We have been shocked that the level of violence is comparable to that experienced by environmental protestors in repressive regimes. The variety of incidents span from years of harassment in the form of unfounded charges that are eventually dropped, to shattered bones and broken limbs, to degrading treatment of people with disabilities. Despite the availability of video footage, witnesses and documented evidence, according to Freedom of Information requests, only 7% of complaints regarding the Lancashire police’s handling of anti-fracking protests have been upheld. The number of complaints submitted is only the tip of the iceberg – protestors share that it feels like it is not worth making themselves more vulnerable to surveillance by submitting complaints, especially as the response to complaints of serious harm is often that ‘reasonable force’ was used.
In September 2020 we commissioned Global Diligence to write a communication to United Nations Special Mechanisms to draw global attention to the human rights violations documented. We included data from 40 interviews, and a dossier of journalistic, investigative and academic resources. Sixty three out of over four hundred incidents were verified in collaboration with Protest Justice‘s archives.
It became clear from interviews with ex-protestors that as hard as it has been for protestors to seek justice for harm they suffered at the hands of the police, it is even more difficult to return to society. False arrests, accusations of violence, misinformation about why people are protesting, as well as chronic physical and mental injury have resulted in frontline defenders feeling as though they cannot return to their ordinary lives. Protestors often set aside well-respected jobs, from accounting to the NHS, family relationships, and their homes – misled into thinking that a right to democracy on paper is a right to democracy on the roadside. Therefore, our communications to the UN include a suggestion that they request further information to understand the policy basis that underpins disproportionately forceful policing methods against environmental protestors.
Supported by protestors to share their testimonies, Not1More in collaboration with Terrain Films are gathering stories to create a short documentary that protestors can use to elevate their voices. This documentary has evolved along with our understanding of their experiences. Contact us for more information.
New Resources and Legal Research
We connected with Oxford ProBono Publico (OPBP) to prepare a report on how the law protects the rights of environmental defenders in the UK, with a particular focus on the right to peaceful protest.
OPBP’s research focused on how international human rights instruments, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the domestic law of the UK (with a focus on England and Wales) protect peaceful protesters through: (i) the right to freedom of peaceful assembly; (ii) the right to freedom of expression; and (iii) the prohibition against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This report has been published on the OPBP’s website. The resource has been extremely useful to understand the protection that protestors have under the law. This in-depth analysis is extremely thorough, highlights include reminding us that the UK government has already been criticised following the UN Special Rapporteur’s country visit in 2013 and statement in 2016. The statement highlights the rights of people with disabilities to protest, which accounts allege have been repeatedly violated by the police.