In advance of planned protests by Extinction Rebellion this week, Netpol is calling on the Metropolitan Police to prevent a repeat of the systemic discrimination towards disabled protesters that we documented in our report “Restricting the Rebellion” in 2019.
The European Convention on Human Rights, in Article 14, says the exercise of rights including freedom of assembly “shall be secured without discrimination” but over the years, there have been repeated incidents of the targeting, harassment and ill-treatment of disabled campaigners.
This has included the physical assault of wheelchair users in 2012 and in 2017, the targeting of a deaf campaigner opposing a fracking site and the police sharing information about disabled protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions, to trigger investigations for alleged benefit fraud.
When climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion held 12 days of protests in London in October 2019, the mistreatment of disabled protesters was so shocking that even the Metropolitan Police’s Disability Independent Advisory Group accused it of humiliating behaviour and considered resigning.
Demands on the Met
Working with disability campaigners, Netpol is urging organisations to sign a statement calling for Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to acknowledge that a repeat of this mistreatment would amount to systematic discrimination and to provide public reassurance that the rights of disabled people to freedom of assembly will be respected and protected.
The statement reads:
In 2019, Netpol’s report “Restricting the Rebellion” highlighted the way Metropolitan Police Officers treated Extinction Rebellion disabled protesters in ways that were both degrading and humiliating. Efforts to make it as difficult as possible for disabled campaigners to participate also included arresting drivers delivering accessible toilets and confiscating vital access equipment. The examples of deliberate intimidation and disregard for fundamental rights were so shocking that even the Met’s own Disability Independent Advisory Group considered resigning due to the number of stories they heard from individual protesters.
A growing intolerance towards environmental protesters from government ministers and the police has resulted in more new laws and more police powers, but the Met still has a legal duty to protect the right to protest.
We cannot see a repeat of the shameful police conduct we witnessed and experienced in 2019.
We demand that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley acknowledges that by failing to meet the needs of disabled protesters at forthcoming protests, the force will once again have systematically discriminated against them. We demand public reassurance from him that his officers will respect the rights of disabled people to protest outside Parliament between 21-24 April 2023″.
If you would like to add your organisation’s name, please sign up here.
Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol)
Disabled People Against Cuts Network (DPAC)
Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN)
Disability Rights UK
Big Brother Watch
Police Spies Out of Lives
Fuel Poverty Action
Deborah Coles, Executive Director, INQUEST
Dr Lisa Wintersteiger, Law for Life
Legal Action for Women
Global Women’s Strike
Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike
Support Not Separation
All African Women’s Group
Global Women Against Deportations
Single Mothers’ Self-Defence
English Collective of Prostitutes
Payday Men’s Network
London Renters Union Disability Justice Caucus
Image: Guy Smallman