Hundreds of activists have taken to the streets in London to protest against Government plans to give the police new powers to clamp down on demonstrators.
The so-called “Kill the Bill” protesters are calling on the House of Lords to reject Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Policing Bill, amid concerns it “threatens the right to peaceful protest”.
Demonstrations are taking place across the UK in cities including London, Bristol, Coventry, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester Sheffield, Plymouth.
The action comes ahead of a crucial vote on the bill by peers on Monday.
Protesters describe it as a draconian crackdown on the right to assembly, freedom of expression and other civil liberties.
Members from a wide range of social, racial and environmental justice groups joined the rally, demanding that peers stop the bill from becoming law.
Ben Hancock, 70, from London, said: “The measures are completely draconian really, basically rights will be taken away from anybody to protest.”
“I mean, effectively we’re going to be reduced to a state similar to Russia.”
Sue a 62-year-old who would only give her first name and who had travelled to the protest as part of Extinction Rebellion from Godalming, Surrey, said: “And I believe that some of the provisions in that bill will severely limit the sorts of things that we’re able to do to protest.”
Tied to a fellow protester, she went on to say: “So we won’t, for instance, be able to be together like this holding hands, or, or even tying ourselves together.
“There are many, many things that we won’t be able to do and really, protests will just be a thing of the past.
“And so many of the the freedoms that we have in this country have been gained through protest.
“Not through just people being quiet about it, and people in power deciding that they’ll give freedoms to people, but because people have come out on the streets and made a noise and made a protest.
“And I want to still be able to do that, I want my children to be able to do that.”
Terry Matthews, 69, from south London, said: “I think we’re facing a really vitriolic attack on our rights to protest and our freedoms to show our dissatisfaction with the status of the Government and the country.
“And it’s a really dangerous step to try to take.”
The Bill would put protesters at risk of lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines for actions that cause “serious annoyance”, which could be done just by making noise.
It would expand stop and search powers, and new laws against residing on land without authorisation with a vehicle would effectively criminalise gypsy, Roma and traveller communities.
Amendments added to the bill by the Government in the House of Lords in November make obstructing major transport works a criminal offence and would equip police with the power to ban named people from demonstrating.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the “Kill the Bill” protest on Parliament Square that the Government’s Police and Crime Bill “disempowers us all”.
He said: “If the right to protest is restricted, if you have to seek police permission to do anything, well, where does that lead to?
“It leads to every protest becoming a conflict about having the protest, rather than what the protest is about.
“This effectively disempowers us all, puts us all on the back foot and puts us all in a totally defensive mode…
“So we ended up endlessly defending things instead of demanding things.”
He added: “This sense of disempowerment is designed to have a depressive effect, particularly on young people.”
Police said there were no reports of arrests at the rally in London.