The heavy handed policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard is a wake-up call to the authoritarianism of Government and a clear infringement on our civil liberties. We must defend the right to protest no matter the circumstances, argues Alex Body.

This evening I watched with horror as police arrested protesters and mourners gathered for a vigil in Clapham after the recent murder of Sarah Everard. Whilst I knew the event was illegal, at first I could not see how the police could be so utterly tone deaf as to stop the event, but having given it more thought ? with the law in its current authoritarian mode ? they really had no choice. If this protest had been allowed to continue, the jittery, angry and fearful public would have no reason to avoid future protests ? toward any cause. The precedent would be there, and the police would have no leg to stand on.

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Whilst provision was made for protests to take place under 2020's Lockdown laws, this recent 2021 iteration of house arrest has had no such dispensation provided. Contrary to what anyone might try and spin you it really is illegal to protest in Britain right now. As absurd as this sounds, of the protests that have occurred over the past few months, very few have been free from voices calling for their immediate shutdown on account of their severe public health ramifications. Baying mobs of twitterati gloried in the £100,000 fine handed to Piers Corbyn after his Anti-Lockdown protest last year, forgetting that he was not being arrested for his views, but for protesting. For demonstrating against the Government, in public. Were people so short sighted as to not see how this could end?

Freedom of protest, like freedom of speech, is spoken of in such ubiquitously good terms that the dark, difficult and complicated side of political demonstration is almost never spoken about. Views that you and I may find abhorrent, offensive and disgusting will be the views held most dear to the person that picks up the placard and starts marching. This is the way it should be. After all if protests are to happen, they must be available to the most marginalised and most controversial groups around ? or else they are not protests at all ? they are parades.

For almost an entire year, those of us who are most concerned about personal liberty have been jittery, concerned, and sometimes terrified by the authoritarian rule the Government seems to have adopted. Tonight, whilst we are commanded by the Government to stay in our homes, we saw video of police brutally arresting people at a vigil for a woman who was recently murdered. If this isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is. It is not for the police, or the Government to determine what causes can be taken up as causes by the populace. We must defend the rights of everybody, without exception, to protest. 

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