The police have today used their powers under the Public Order Act to prevent a counter demonstration to the presence of the right-wing and anti-Islamic EDL from going ahead in Bristol City Centre tomorrow (Saturday). Organisers of the rally, which had significant trade union backing, have been issued with legal notices enforcing restrictions on the counter demonstration, and have been told that they face potential prosecution if the rally goes ahead as planned. A statement from ‘We are Bristol’ reads,
Today’s Bristol Evening Post includes information from police statements about a change of venue for tomorrow’s (July 14th) counter demonstration against the EDL, moving the timing and location of the counter demonstration to Castle Park.
We Are Bristol wish to make clear that the police have imposed conditions on our demonstration backed by legal orders. This has placed the organisers of the counter demonstration under extreme duress, no agreement was reached with the police, and legal advice has been sought to defend our right to protest.
The original plan had been for counter demonstrators to meet at the Fountains in the centre of Bristol at 11am. The police have insisted that the demonstration must now start no earlier that 1pm, and will take place at Castle Park, some distance to the North of the centre.
Plans for the EDL demonstration are unchanged, and this will take place as planned at 1pm, in a central location. Other counter-protests, which have been organised separately to the ‘We are Bristol event’ are still expected to take place in the city centre, despite police opposition. Demonstrators have been called on to ‘line the route’ of the EDL march from 11am onwards.
The move to stop the ‘We are Bristol’ rally is merely the latest attempt by the police to undermine and restrict the rights of Bristol residents to protest against the presence of the EDL. Earlier this week, Bristol activists accused Avon and Somerset police of deliberately dissuading local people from attending any demonstration. Bristol Anti-Fascists claimed,
Avon and Somerset Constabulary have made appeals for locals not to attend any counter-demonstrations. These have often been targeted at Bristol’s Muslim community. The police should not determine who is and who is not able to exercise their rights to protest.
Activists have also highlighted the police intention to use a ‘heavy handed’ approach with anyone demonstrating or assembling in the City centre without police approval. Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham has warned that those taking part in unauthorised protests, “must not be surprised at the policing response on the day.”
Netpol have documented similar police strategies in other areas of the country, notably Leicester, where police strongly pushed a ‘stay at home’ message to Mosques and community forums, and distributed 20,000 leaflets to schools and youth centres warning young people not to attend protest related to the EDL. The leaflet also contained the statement; “There may be people who will try to get you involved in the event. They are doing this for themselves, not you.”
Netpol are concerned that the police are operating an on-going strategy to undermine and reduce participation in lawful demonstrations against the presence of the EDL.
The police are quick to use the fear of violence and disorder to justify their actions, but their treatment of local communities, Muslim youth and anti-fascist protest groups can only increase the potential for confrontation. The police are perceived as operating a policy of appeasement towards an extreme right-wing, anti-Islamic organisation, which is permitted to have the run of City centres while local people and protesters are confined to the outskirts. This inevitably creates anger and resentment and heightens community tensions, setting the stage for more serious conflict.
This Is Bristol has posted a statement by Zaheer Shabir, chair ofBuilding the Bridge, who says that “the Muslim community did not encourage anyone to sign the e-petition demanding a ban on EDL marching in our City of Bristol” and “also met with UAF and We are Bristol to clarify our position on the counter protest requesting them not to confuse and entice Muslim youth to join their counter protest”.
Further, “the Muslim community leadership have met with the EDL to create a pathway for future dialogue. This was the first of its kind in the UK and positive assurances were given by the EDL representatives”.
It would be unfair to hold Zaheer Shabir and his colleagues entirely responsible for this spineless response to the threat from a gang of violent anti-Muslim racists. They are clearly following police advice as outlined last year by Adrian Tudway, head of the national domestic extremism unit at Scotland Yard, who in an email to a Muslim organisation stated that the EDL are “not extreme right wing as an organisation” and suggested that the Muslim community should open a “line of dialogue” with these racist thugs.