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COP26: Police tactics ‘suffocated’ peaceful protest and put public in danger, campaigners claim

POLICE tactics at Cop26 “suffocated” peaceful protest and could have breached activists’ human rights, campaigners and monitoring groups have claimed. 

The use of tactics such as kettling, “intrusive and intimidating” surveillance, and stop and search during the two-week climate summit in Glasgow had a “chilling effect” on demonstrations, campaigners said. 

Organisers of Scotland’s largest climate demo on November 6 have also accused officers of “heavy-handed and racially discriminatory policing” during the march, adding that the policing of the event put the public at risk.  

One activist told the Morning Star she felt she had been treated “like some kind of international terrorist” after she was persistently followed by police officers, including to her accommodation. 

Zoology student Mila Todd said she noticed she was being pursued after she was arrested along with 21 other activists for blocking King George V Bridge during an action with Scientist Rebellion on November 6. 

“The moment we came out of the cell, I felt followed everywhere,” she told the Morning Star. Five days after the action, Ms Todd said she was chased by two officers when she ran for a train and then followed back to her accommodation. 

Although a code was needed to enter the apartment building, when she left the apartment she found two different officers were “hiding down the corridor.”

“That really upset me, so then I started calling the Scottish Community and Activist Legal Project to find out how legal this was,” she said. 

Though Ms Todd was one of 22 people arrested on the bridge, she said she was the only member of the group to be targeted in this way.

“I don’t know why I was being singled out, or at least that’s how I felt,” she said. 

“I am half Mauritian, I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. I felt like I was being treated like some kind of international terrorist.”

Protesters’ rights group Article 11 said it has received other similar reports, including one activist who was followed into a pub bathroom by three officers and two other campaigners who were pursued from Glasgow to Edinburgh. 

The group, which is compiling a report on “oppressive policing” of Cop26 protests with police monitoring group Netpol, claimed that some of the incidents “amount to human rights breaches.”

These include incidents of “racial profiling” by police, activists being stopped and searched for “bogus” reasons including “walking too fast,” and reports of “excessive use of force” by officers, such as shoving. 

Article 11 research fellow Rachel Currie said: “From failing to protect, to actively obstructing the right to privacy, liberty, freedom of expression, [and] assembly … Police Scotland’s ‘human rights-based’ approach has been comparatively low on arrests, but high on intimidation and unlawful interference.”

The group raised particular concern about the kettling of Extinction Rebellion protesters for about four hours during a march against greenwashing during the first week of Cop26. 

A march steward on the day of the protest, Richard Ecclestone, who is part of Extinction Rebellion’s “police liaison team,” told the Morning Star that officers failed to take into consideration people’s welfare needs. 

“So our welfare team had to create a toilet over a drain, and shield them with banners so people could have some privacy because the police were not letting people out to use the toilet,” Mr Ecclestone, who is also a former police officer, said. “People in there were having panic attacks.”

Due to his past experience in the force, Mr Ecclestone said he was aware police were citing incorrect pieces of legislation to justify the containment. 

Police Scotland later said the kettle had been instigated in order to prevent a breach of the peace, however Mr Ecclestone said this was not mentioned at the time. 

During the Global Day of Action on November 6, police used the tactic again to contain a bloc of the Young Communist League. 

Protest organiser, the Cop26 Coalition, today accused police of risking public safety during that demo by splitting up pre-arranged blocs and stopping the league’s bloc, which they said could have created a “deadly crush.”  

March steward Grame Eddolls said: “The police wilfully endangered the public that day. They had no regard for the 20 to 40,000 people trapped in the rain, from vulnerable people to young children.” 

The Cop26 Coalition also accused officers of being disrespectful and antagonistic to indigenous elders leading the march and being “racially discriminatory and violent towards a group of Sudanese campaigners.” 

Despite fears of widespread disruption at Cop26, with 10,000 officers sent to the city to deal with protests, only 97 people were arrested over the course of the two weeks. 

A spokesperson from XR Scotland said the tactics had “suffocated peaceful protest.” 

“This approach did nothing but damage relations. Where were the criminals which justified such expensive overpolicing of this event?”

Mr Ecclestone added that the police were in danger of being viewed as “colluding with the government and the corporate lobbyists” to silence protest around Cop26, which many campaigners have condemned as a “failure.” 

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie thanked protesters, officers and stewards for “ensuring rights were upheld, voices were heard and peaceful protest was facilitated, while also maintaining the safety of all involved” during the summit. 

“With the exception of a tiny minority of protesters who were intent on creating conflict and compromising public safety, all of these events were peaceful and as a result, over the two weeks of conference, we have made only a very small number of arrests,” he said. 

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