A decline in civic freedoms is anything but ‘silly’  

UK Member of Parliament, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s belittling of the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist is further evidence of the disregard for civil society and citizen activism in the country. 

We, the undersigned, are concerned by the UK government’s ongoing actions to curtail freedom of peaceful assembly. The derisive response from the Leader of the House of Commons to a query on the country’s placement on the CIVICUS Monitor’s International Watchlist is further cause for dismay.

The senior member of the ruling party made his comments during a parliamentary question and answer session in the House of Commons. Following MP Alistair Carmichael’s query on the decline of civic freedoms in the United Kingdom, Rees-Mogg proceeded to dismiss the concerns raised by negating the evidence presented and belittling its source.  

CIVICUS is a global alliance of 10,000+ members and gathers its data through a network of established research partners.  In September 2021, the UK was placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist – a quarterly brief that spotlights countries where a serious and rapid decline of civic freedoms has been observed. Other countries featured on this list include Afghanistan, Belarus and Nicaragua.   

The Watchlist highlights threats to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly currently experienced in the UK. The proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a chief source of concern and is expected to give police more power to crack down on protests, with serious repercussions for minority groups in the country. Despite concerns expressed by civil society, new proposals to the Policing Bill were introduced in October 2021. These include protest banning orders and new stop and search powers.  

The controversial bill, currently with the House of Lords (the upper house of Parliament), comes at a time when protests by anti-racism and environmental rights groups are being met with disproportionate force and restrictions. Other legislative developments, such as the proposal to “overhaul” the Human Rights Act and the introduction of changes to the New Elections Bill and the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, are expected to further undermine the democratic checks and balances that hold the government accountable.  

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is an integral part of international commitments to protect civic freedoms. We expect the UK to be a global champion of these commitments. Government Minister Rees-Mogg’s response sadly reflects a complete disregard for the fundamental freedoms of citizens in one of the world’s oldest democracies. Casting aspersions on civil society is a tactic often used by authoritarian governments to deflect criticism and avoid oversight. It is unfortunate that the UK government has often employed this approach to defame activists and organisations who speak truth to power.  

As past and present leaders of the CIVICUS alliance, we stand with the findings of the Monitor Watchlist and call on the UK government to urgently remedy the developments which have caused civil society organisations across the world to raise this alarm.  

We welcome the opportunity to meet with MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to present the findings of our research and make recommendations on how the UK government can reverse the decline of civic freedoms in the country. 

SIGNED:

Julia Sanchez
CIVICUS Board Chair (Canada)

Anabel Cruz
Former Board Chair (Uruguay)

Ingrid Srinath
Former Secretary General (India)

Kumi Naidoo
Former Secretary General (South Africa)

Katsuji Imata
Former Secretary General (Japan)

Lysa John
Present CIVICUS Secretary General (South Africa)


Civic space in the United Kingdom is rated as narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

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