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UK urged to amend laws impacting right to assembly

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai on Wednesday urged [press release] the UK to review certain legal and policing policies that negatively affect the right to peaceably assemble. The statement came at the end of a 10-day visit to the UK where Kiai visited with senior officials in London, Belfast and Edinburgh. Kiai highlighted several policies in the respective regions that give cause for concern. In England and Wales, Kiai noted that there have been great improvements in the policing of demonstrations but expressed concern over the practice of "kettling" which is holding a large group of protesters for long periods of time without water or sanitary services and then requesting names and addresses as they are allowed to leave. He said that this "has a powerful chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly, and I was informed of many people who refrained from exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly for fear of being kettled." In Northern Ireland, Kiai emphasized the importance of easing tensions between "protestants/unionists/loyalists and the catholics/nationalists/republicans" and easing the tension caused by "flag protests." Kiai also denounced cost recovery mechanisms in Scotland that greatly increase the cost of parades and demonstrations. Finally, Kiai addressed the practice of blacklisting union members:

I was appalled to hear about the existence of a blacklist of union members in the construction industry, with no sanctions allegedly taken against those who benefitted from the list. It is crucial that strong actions be taken against the making and using of such lists as a deterrence.
Kiai's findings from the visit will be finalized and put into a report then will be presented in front of the Human Rights Council [official website] in June.

The visit came seven months after a report on the state of the freedom of assembly in the international community was released [JURIST report] by the UN. Last March Switzerland was criticized [JURIST report] for a proposal to change the existing law imposing heavy fines of 100,000 Swiss Francs ($110,000) for people who protest without prior governmental authorization. In December 2011 a UN panel of independent human rights experts urged [JURIST report] Malaysia not to adopt a proposed bill that forbids the country's citizens under the age of 21 and non-citizens from assembling, enacting conditional access for media to public gatherings and outlawing street protests altogether. A month earlier Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported [JURIST report] that Syria committed several human rights violations including the right to peaceful assembly.

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