Long jail sentences handed to two Just Stop Oil climate campaigners could stifle protest, the United Nations has warned the UK government.
The protestors caused traffic gridlock after scaling the Dartford Crossing Bridge for almost 40 hours in October last year.
Morgan Trowland, 40, was jailed for three years and Marcus Decker, 34, for two years for causing a public nuisance.
In response to the UN, the government said that the right to protest is a fundamental part of the UK’s democracy but that the “law-abiding majority” must be able to go about their daily lives.
At an appeal hearing last month Lady Chief Justice, Lady Carr defended the sentences, saying they met a “legitimate” aim of deterring others from such offending. The activists were refused permission to challenge them in the Supreme Court.
The warning comes in a letter shown to News, sent to the government by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, Ian Fry, on 15 August this year.
The sentences are “significantly more severe than previous sentences imposed for this type of offending in the past,” Mr Fry notes.
He says he is worried about “the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.
The letter goes on to say the new Public Order Act which came into force in July “appears to be a direct attack on the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly”.
The new legislation includes measures aimed at curbing disruptive protests.
The letter sent in mid-August requested a reply within 60 days but has not received one, which the UN special rapporteur described as “troubling”.
“Most countries take these letters seriously and respond,” Mr Fry told News. He suggested that the lack of a formal reply reflected “a general disregard for human rights concerns by the current government”.
The Home Office said it had “responded” to the special rapporteur’s letter.
It said peaceful protest is a vital part of a democratic society and a long-standing tradition in the UK, provided it is done within the law.
The new legislation is designed to “clarify the definition of serious disruption and allow police to clear roads quickly”, it told the , and said the new legislation on protests was put in place following proper parliamentary procedure and is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.