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Global: Interactive map reveals a 'blistering attack' on peaceful protests across the world

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First of its kind interactive map shows state-sanctioned violence against protesters worldwide

‘This map sheds light on the heavy repression suffered by protesters around the world – and it is terrifying’ - Patrick Wilcken

The UK is performing worse than average on empowerment rights

This is a bleak new era for protest rights in the UK’ - Oliver Feeley-Sprague

Authorities across the world are increasingly resorting to unlawful use of force and repressive legislation to crush protests, Amnesty International said today (19 Sep) as it launched an interactive digital map that exposes the shocking rise in the repression of protesters by governments across the globe.

The global map which is part of Amnesty’s flagship global campaign Protect the Protest, highlights the numerous human rights violations perpetrated against protesters around the world. It shows how governments treat protests as a threat rather than a right and how law enforcement officials view their role as being to suppress and subdue protesters rather than to facilitate their rights. As a result, thousands of people are being unlawfully dispersed, arrested, beaten and even killed during demonstrations. They also face devastating consequences afterwards just for participating in protests.

The interactive digital map, the first of its kind, reveals how many countries misuse less lethal weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and batons to harass, intimidate, punish, or drive away protesters, shutting down their right of peaceful assembly.

Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International's Military, Security and Policing Researcher, said:

“Peaceful protest is a right, not a privilege, and one that countries have a duty to respect, protect and facilitate.

“For far too long, authorities across the world have launched a blistering attack on those who peacefully exercise their right to protest, and they have destroyed lives in the process. From abusive use of force, arbitrary arrest and detention, to torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and state-sanctioned killings, this map sheds light on the heavy repression suffered by protesters around the world – and it is terrifying.

The list of activists – and countries – under threat keeps growing and this repression must stop now. In Iran, the authorities have unlawfully killed hundreds and arbitrarily detained tens of thousands of people, including children, to crush successive waves of nationwide protests. In China, it is impossible to protest peacefully without facing harassment and prosecution and huge numbers of activists are jailed for speaking out.

“It is shocking that despite the widespread misuse of less lethal weapons there is no global control over the production, trade and use of these weapons. This map highlights the need for an international treaty to regulate the trade in policing equipment so less lethal weapons don’t end up in the hands of abusive police forces.

“Marking human rights violations on a map allows us to visualise and track the global scale of the issue. It also exposes the governments that are failing to protect the right to protest and helps to hold law enforcement authorities to account for shocking abuses they commit amid efforts to crush demonstrations.

“We are calling on governments to urgently overhaul their approach, put a stop to this abhorrent violence and ensure they protect and facilitate peaceful protests.”

As well as pinpointing the countries where protesters suffer abuse and the kind of threats they face, the map also details current legislation on protests, relevant UN publications and international court judgements, and explains how people can take action. Updated in real-time, it presents a chilling picture of the daily reality for protesters across the world.

It is widely recognised that the right to protest was significantly curtailed during the Covid-19 pandemic, given that gatherings in most countries were generally prohibited on public health grounds. Some countries, however, used the pandemic as a pretext to further restrict gatherings or to introduce disproportionate restrictions. 

UK’s draconian move to clampdown on protests

According to the Human Rights Measurement Initiative, the UK scores 5.6 out of 10 on the right to assembly and association in its 2023 Rights Tracker. This score suggests that the UK is performing worse than average on empowerment rights.

The UK’s fundamental rights to peaceful protest are rapidly disappearing as police forces begin to use the vast range of new anti-protest powers given to them under 2022 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and 2023 Public Order Act.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 increased police and ministerial powers to restrict further the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including new policing powers to implement restrictions on the grounds of noise and nuisance, which risk being disproportionate.

The Public Order Act 2023 criminalises a wide range of peaceful protest activities, expands police stop-and-search powers and removes the rights to peaceful assembly for individuals subjected to specific protest banning orders.

In June, the UK government pushed through further restrictions on protest rights. These measures were re-introduced as regulations having previously been voted out of the Public Order Act. These regulations further lower the threshold by which police can intervene to curb peaceful protests, including before they have started, on grounds that they might cause more than minor disruption. These restrictions are so broad in scope, that it gives the police almost unlimited powers to curb peaceful protests.

Anyone wishing to march in solidarity along a road, stand in a public space or on a pavement holding placards could be caught within the scope of the new regulations. 

Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Military, Security and Police Programme Director at Amnesty International UK, said:

“It’s deeply disturbing how far the UK government has gone to crush our rights and criminalise so many aspects of peaceful protest.

This is a bleak new era for protest rights in the UK. The police have, in effect, been given licence to close down almost any protest they wish. The UK is rapidly aligning itself with a host of repressive governments we have previously condemned for the way they crack down on protesters, dissent and fundamental freedoms. 

“We can only hope that future governments see this for what it is and repeal this insidious package of laws being inflicted on the country.” 

Global crackdown on protests

Based on Amnesty’s monitoring, there were credible allegations of state forces using unlawful force against peaceful protesters in 2022 in at least 86 of the 156 countries covered in its annual report. In 37 countries, security forces used lethal weapons against protesters, even though firearms are not suitable for crowd control and the police should never use them to disperse an assembly. 

In India, for example, the authorities have resorted to the use of guns, tear gas, baton charges, internet shutdowns, and even forced evictions against people protesting the Government. In China, those who dare to protest risk losing their right to education and housing. Recently, in Peru, the unlawful use of lethal force by security forces resulted in 49 deaths during the December 2022 to February 2023 protests. Globally, research from Amnesty reveals that protesters have been arbitrarily arrested in over 50% of the countries covered in its annual report.

Take action to protect the protest

Amnesty’s Protect the Protest global campaign challenges attacks on peaceful protest, stands with those targeted and supports the causes of social movements pushing for human rights change. Take action now.

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative tracks the human rights progress of countries, producing robust data that anyone can use to push for improvements in how governments treat people. It is an independent and non-profit organisation.  

In January, more than 30 civil society organisations came together to call for an international treaty to control the trade in tools of torture used to repress protesters and abuse detainees around the world.

The interactive digital map on violence against protesters is available here.


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