By Adam Gabbatt
The Guardian (5/8/17)
More than 20 states have proposed bills that would crack down on protests and demonstrations since Donald Trump was elected, in a moved that UN experts have branded “incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law”.
The proposed laws would variously increase the penalties for protesting in large groups, ban protesters from wearing masks during demonstrations and, in some states, protect drivers from liability if they strike someone taking part in a protest.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said more than 30 separate anti-protest bills have been introduced since 8 November in “an unprecedented level of hostility towards protesters in the 21st century”. Their introduction comes amid a huge increase in activism and engagement, much of it inspired by Trump’s election to the presidency.
The ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild have said many of the bills are likely unconstitutional. “The proposed bills have been especially pervasive in states where protests flourished recently,” said Vera Eidelman, who works in the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology project.
The ACLU says more than 30 bills have been introduced amid a huge swell of activism, prompting UN intervention over criminalization of peaceful protest.
“This flood of bills represents an unprecedented level of hostility towards protesters in the 21st century. And many of these bills attack the right to speak out precisely where the supreme court has historically held it to be the most robust: in public parks, streets and sidewalks.”
The flurry of legislation has prompted UN experts to intervene, with two special rapporteurs from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – the UN body which works to promote and protect human rights – to complain to the US state department at the end of March.
In a recent letter to the government, David Kaye and Maina Kiai, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), listed specific pieces of legislation which they said were “criminalizing peaceful protests”.
Kaye and Kiai, special rapporteurs on the freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly respectively, said the bills represent “a worrying trend that could result in a detrimental impact on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the country”.
The legislation would “severely infringe upon the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly,” Kaye and Kiai wrote. …
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