Braverman’s call for ‘hate marches’ to be banned comes as data shows scant evidence of alleged wrongdoing writes Nandini Naira Archer

Arrests at pro-Palestine protests in London attended by millions of people last year resulted in just 36 charges – despite attempts by senior politicians to label them as “mass extremism” and “openly criminal”.

The low number of actual arrests and prosecutions undermines the narrative, pushed by senior Tory leaders, that the protests are a danger to public safety. Home secretary James Cleverly said last week that the organisers possessed “real evil intent”, and his predecessor Suella Braverman today repeated her frequent calls for the weekly marches to be banned.

But despite the vast numbers of police deployed around the protests at a cost of £22m, officers appear only to have been able to find a handful of instances of wrongdoing. A number of charges were brought under the new Public Order Act while seven people were charged with assault and three with possession of a weapon.

Cleverly told the Jewish News last week that the police were now making “significant arrests” for antisemitic hate crimes at the marches.

Yet data published by Operation Brocks, which the Met calls its “response to the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza and its impact on London”, reveals that between October and the end of December, there were only 153 arrests – with the majority of people, 117, being released without charge.

It is difficult to establish attendance at the marches, but organisers have put the number as high as a million for individual days. There have been marches most weekends since Israel launched its assault on Gaza, following the 7 October attacks by Hamas, and estimates by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign have put the total attendance between October and December in excess of three million, which would mean an average 0.5 people had been arrested for every 10,000 attendees. By comparison, Glastonbury Festival saw an average 1.75 arrests for every 10,000 attendees last year.

It means on average each arrest cost the taxpayer more than £143,000.

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – which has helped organise the protests – said the number of prosecutions was “remarkably low”.

But he added that the figures for arrests and prosecutions did not reflect the extent of overpolicing at the demonstrations. “The measures introduced by the police have been increasingly draconian and repressive,” he said, referring to the now “routine” use of public order measures amended in the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act – giving officers greater powers to restrict protests.

He added: “The use of these sections is not warranted, shown by the arrest figures and what the police have said themselves: that these are overwhelmingly peaceful marches.”

The Met attempted to prevent last weekend’s march from ending in Whitehall before climbing down. The force also authorised the removal of face coverings they believed were being worn to conceal people’s identities throughout the City of Westminster, a large area of central London.

Meanwhile, the force has prohibited Palestine protesters from gathering outside the Israeli embassy and on specified surrounding roads since October.

And earlier this week, Cleverly announced that protesters who climb war memorials at pro-Palestine marches could face three months in prison and a £1,000 fine under a new criminal offence.

“These rules are there to deter,” said Jamal. “What’s astonishing is that, despite this, people are not being deterred and are turning up in really vast numbers, so there’s no way the state can ban our protests.”

The police monitoring group Netpol told us that it had come across countless “worrying reports of police repression and surveillance at Palestine marches” including arrests of people targeted for their use of slogans and chants, especially if they are in Arabic, as well as young people.

“This is one of the largest and strongest mobilisations of solidarity in recent years,” said Netpol spokesperson Kat Hobbs. She added that “the government has tried to shut it down by characterising Palestine solidarity actions as hate marches and support for terrorism,” referring to Braverman’s comments last October.

“This policing is political, and it has one goal: to shut down international solidarity efforts and scare people off the streets,” Hobbs said.

Meanwhile, Shabbir Lakha, a Stop the War officer, said he attended a recent protest where an officer walked around with a sign stating: “The phrase ‘end Israeli apartheid’ could be treated as a hate crime.”

At a separate protest, an officer informed Lakha that the chant “globalise the intifada” was racially-aggravated hate speech. He referred to both incidents as “merely threats and attempts at intimidation”.

“The vast majority of those joining protests have done so in a lawful and peaceful way but a minority have broken the law and arrests have been made,” the Met said in a statement.

“We will deal swiftly with anyone who carries placards and banners or makes statements that cross the line into religiously or racially aggravated offences.”

Source: OpenDemocracy

08 Feb 2024 by Nandini Naira Archer

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