March 23, 2009 / 11:23 AM / 9 years ago

UK police criticized over handling of protests

LONDON (Reuters) - Legislators have accused British police of being heavy-handed in dealing with demonstrators, just days before expected violent protests at next week’s G20 summit of world leaders in London.

Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights said police were misusing counter-terrorism laws and anti-social behavior legislation to deal with protesters.

The criticism follows complaints about police handling of a climate-change demonstration in southeast England last year.

Environmentalists, anti-war campaigners, anti-capitalists and other protesters say they will stage a series of demonstrations around the April 2 summit of leaders from the Group of 20 major and emerging economies.

Police leave in the capital has been canceled and businesses are being advised to cancel unnecessary meetings because of the protests expected in London’s financial district and at the venue for the talks about the global economic crisis.

“The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right and one that the state and police have a duty to protect and facilitate,” committee chairman Andrew Dismore said.

“Of course, there is a balance to be struck between the rights of protesters, the police and the public (including protest targets) but the state must not impose restrictions unless it is necessary, and proportionate, to do so.”

The committee said police were using stop and search powers to intimidate and conducting wide-ranging seizures of property.

At the Kent Climate Camp protest last year, police even seized tent pegs and a clown costume, it said.

The chief constable of Kent has now referred the policing of that protest to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Police were monitoring journalists, refusing them access to protests, not recognizing press cards and assaulting them, the National Union of Journalists told the committee.

The members of parliament said it was unacceptable that journalists had to resort to taking court action against officers interfering with their work.

London’s Metropolitan Police Service said human rights and the right to protest were at the heart of its policing philosophy.

“We will always facilitate lawful protest and are committed to doing so but do have to minimize the disruption caused to others going about their lawful business,” it said.

Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Alison Williams

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