Amnesty International slams European govts for curbing pro-Palestine protests, free speech
LONDON: The curbing of speech and protests in support of Palestinian rights by European governments is a “denial of collective grief” and “stifling of dissent” that could create a chilling effect on freedom of expression, Amnesty International has warned.
Peacefully protesting against injustice in Israel and the Occupied Territories “is not a threat to security,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty’s expert on counterterrorism and human rights in Europe.
She added that authorities in several European countries had banned solidarity protests, and had harassed and arrested people for expressing support for Palestinian rights.
“Speaking out against injustice or joining a solidarity march are some of the few tools we — as peoples around the world — have available to try and effect change,” she said.
In order to legitimize restrictions on free speech and assembly, governments have “conflated support for Palestinian human rights with support for terrorism,” Hall added, describing the strategy as a “hack.”
The misleading association of the Palestinian cause with terrorism has led to the closing of human rights groups, funding bans, threats of deportation, and proposals to sack people from jobs, she said.
Fear of “extremism” in relation to Palestine has also seen schools, colleges and universities “encouraged to be on high alert” at the behest of governments.
Hall said: “The rapid manner in which this is happening across Europe at both EU and national levels would seem to indicate that, in the momentum for states to respond to the brutal Hamas attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7, there simply has been ‘overreach’.”
And through the deliberate conflation of Hamas and all Palestinians, and of Muslims and terrorism, governments are making people reluctant to stand up for the human rights of Palestinians, she added, warning the result was a “logical outcome.”
Hall called on European countries to justify measures that breach human rights obligations by “enshrining them in law and ensuring that every measure is necessary and proportionate.”
Countries should also “direct their efforts toward combating genuine hate speech and hate crimes rather than banning or restricting protest or other forms of solidarity with Palestinians’ human rights,” she said.
Hall’s comments come as a senior police official in the UK backed Metropolitan Police chief Mark Rowley in his row with Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Rowley and Braverman disagreed over whether a massive pro-Palestinian march in London, set for Armistice Day on Saturday, should be permitted.
Rowley had refused to ban the demonstration, denying that it constituted a security threat, with Braverman later accusing the police of “playing favorites.”
But Gavin Stephens, chair of the National Police Chief’s Council, has backed the London police chief, saying political views should not influence decision-making.
“The decisions that we take are not easy ones, but we do so impartially, without fear or favor, and in line with both the law and our authorized professional practice,” Stephens added.
“In everything that we do … all of that should be directed towards keeping people safe and feeling safe.
“I consider that as one of my civic responsibilities, that I do what I can to give that reassurance to keep temperatures low, when we are in times of such awful, tragic international conflict that is affecting so many families across the world.
“Language is important and our actions in defusing tensions are important, and we take those very seriously in policing.”