Tom Tugendhat and Sally-Ann Hart. Image:: UK Parliament, CC BY 3.0 license
Tory MPs may have been busy expressing their admiration for Russians risking arrest to take part in anti-war marches – but that didn’t stop them voting to restrict the right to protest here in the UK.
Three MPs, who publicly praised the protesters as “brave”, and called for Russians to “stand up against the Kremlin regime” voted on Monday night to support new restrictions on protests in the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts bill.
They were among a majority of MPs who voted to allow police to restrict protests which cause serious disruption, and to restrict single-person protests – throwing out votes passed by the House of Lords to stop these measures.
Leading human rights charity Liberty said it was “disappointing and hypocritical to see MPs voting to criminalise forms of dissent in the UK”.
Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, stood up in parliament on Thursday to call for greater support for Russian protesters.
“President Zelensky gave a powerful and stirring speech yesterday that called on the Russian people to stand up to President Putin over his illegal invasion, and we have already seen extensive protests across Russia.
She asked armed forces minister James Heappey: “Can [he] join President Zelensky in calling on Russian citizens, who have never experienced a real democracy, to stand up against the Kremlin regime and its unprovoked aggression?”
On Monday night, Hart voted against the amendments put forward by the Lords.
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, retweeted a video of demonstrators risking arrest by marching through Moscow, and said: “Russia deserves better”.
Tugendhat also voted to scrap the Lords amendments.
Julian Sturdy, the Conservative MP for York Outer, praised the bravery of those protesting on the streets of Russia.
“We must also commend the brave Russian men and women who took to the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg to protest the war and show solidarity with their Slavic neighbours in Ukraine,” he wrote.
Sturdy also voted to keep anti-protest measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts (PCSC) bill.
Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, told The Big Issue the protests in Russia highlighted the importance of civil resistance.
“We should all be able to stand up to power and have our voices heard. All around the world, people in their communities see protest as a critical way we speak up for what we believe in. We’ve all been moved by the bravery of Russian protesters risking arrest to stand up against the invasion of Ukraine, as well as the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators globally who’ve shown support for Ukraine and called on their governments to welcome those fleeing violence,” Pang said
“Recent events have reminded us just how important protest is for people all around the world – which is why it’s so disappointing and hypocritical to see MPs voting to criminalise forms of dissent here in the UK. Last night, MPs voted to give police sweeping new protest-related powers, including the power to restrict protests that are too noisy or risk causing unease.”
Amendment 80 would have thrown out the power to restrict assemblies based on “serious disorder”, and given police powers to prevent protests which cause “disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation.”
Amendment 87 aimed to throw out limits on single-person protests, which would allow police to place restrictions on individuals staging a protest. Failure to comply with these restrictions could result in a £2,500 fine, and encouraging someone else to do so could result in a year in prison.
The commons voted against all three amendments, in effect reinstating the clampdowns, and starting a parliamentary process known as “ping-pong”, where the amendments will go between the houses until an agreement is reached.
Just one Conservative MP – Steve Baker – rebelled and voted to keep the amendments.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss spoke in the house on Monday to congratulate Russian protesters. She did not vote yesterday, but has backed the bill and it’s anti-protest curbs on its previous appearances in the Commons.
Truss said on Monday: “We have always worked to support those who speak out in favour of free speech, free media and democracy in Russia, and we continue to do that. We congratulate those who are prepared to go out and protest against this regime’s appalling actions.
“Our concerns are not with the Russian people; our concerns are with Vladimir Putin and his regime.”
Hunt, Tugendhat, and Sturdy did not respond to a request for comment.
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