Law 11:46 09/07/2024 World

Amnesty International: Severe attacks undermine peaceful protest across Europe

Across Europe, the right of peaceful assembly is coming under severe attack as states increasingly stigmatize, criminalise and crack down on peaceful protesters, imposing unjustified and punitive restrictions and resorting to ever more repressive means to stifle dissent, said Amnesty International in a new report.

Under-protected and over-restricted: The state of the right to protest in 21 countries in Europe reveals a continent-wide pattern of repressive laws, use of unnecessary or excessive force, arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, unwarranted or discriminatory restrictions as well as the increasing use of invasive surveillance technology, resulting in a systematic roll back of the right to protest.

“Amnesty’s research paints a deeply disturbing picture of a Europe-wide onslaught against the right to protest. Across the continent, authorities are vilifying, impeding, deterring and unlawfully punishing people who peacefully protest,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“Throughout history, peaceful protest has played a pivotal role in the achievement of many of the rights and freedoms that we now take for granted. And yet across Europe, repressive laws and policies combined with unjustified practices and abusive surveillance technologies are creating a toxic environment which poses a serious threat to peaceful protesters and protests. One of these developments, on their own, in a single country, would be disturbing. But dozens of such repressive tactics on a continental scale is plainly terrifying.”

Policing, impunity and surveillance 

The report finds widespread use of excessive and/or unnecessary use of force by the police against peaceful protesters, including use of less-lethal weapons. Reported incidents resulted in serious and sometimes permanent injuries including broken bones or teeth (France, Germany, Greece, Italy), the loss of a hand (France), the loss of a testicle (Spain), and dislocated bones, damage to eyes and severe head trauma (Spain). In some countries, the use of force amounted to torture or other ill-treatment and in Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Serbia, and Switzerland, excessive use of force was used by law enforcement against children.

The research found cases of police impunity or lack of accountability in numerous countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Türkiye and the UK.

Amnesty’s research paints a deeply disturbing picture of a Europe-wide onslaught. Across the continent, authorities are vilifying, impeding, deterring and unlawfully punishing people who peacefully protest

There has been a marked increase in the use of facial recognition technology in Europe. It is currently used by law enforcement agencies in 11 of the countries examined, with a further six planning to introduce it. The use of facial recognition technology for identification of protesters amounts to indiscriminate mass surveillance, and no safeguards can prevent the harm it inflicts. Amnesty International has called for an outright ban on such technology.

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