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Animal Aid calls on Lords to protect freedom to protest
Posted 4 March 2005
While government moves to grant house arrest powers to the Home Secretary have attracted much anguished debate, new measures aimed at criminalising nearly all forms of effective protest against animal experimentation have gone virtually unnoticed.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, containing two draconian government amendments, has already passed through the House of Commons. Today, Monday March 14th, the Bill will receive its Second Reading in the House of Lords.
Animal Aid has sent a special 'emergency briefing' to every member of the Upper House, calling upon him or her to thwart the government's 'dangerously anti-democratic' initiative.
Under the amendments, minor civil offences such as 'nuisance' and trespass would become criminal acts, if carried out as part of a protest against animal research. They would attract a potential prison sentence of up to five years.
A peaceful - though noisy - demonstration outside a vivisection laboratory could also make participants liable to imprisonment, as would handing out 'offensive' leaflets. Even consumer and shareholder boycotts could fall foul of the amendments, in that they can be deemed to be 'interference with contractual relationships so as to harm an animal research organisation'.
Animal Aid regards the government proposals as a clear and serious assault on the historic rights of peaceful free assembly and expression. They are also thoroughly discriminatory, in that they target only animal rights campaigners.
The government argues that these measures will deal effectively, and in a carefully calibrated manner, with animal rights extremism. In reality, the amendments are so broadly-drawn that they will fail to catch those determined to act outside the law, while outlawing many forms of entirely peaceful protest.
In his letter to peers, Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler, notes:
"The new proposals are framed so that they can be extended in the future (Clause 146) to encompass all kinds of peaceful protest - whether related to concerns, for example, over environmental pollution, hunting, parental rights, or the war in Iraq."
"Animal rights campaigning directed at vivisection has received an extremely bad press during the last two years ... the creation of this atmosphere of near- hysteria has given the government what it regards as a licence to drive through parliament the thoroughly-illiberal SOCP bill amendments. While some people opposing animal research have engaged in threats, property damage and - rarely - physical violence, the vast majority are committed to peaceful, non-intimidatory campaigning."