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Campaigners condemn ‘outrageous’ policing operation in Leicester as new police powers against protests come into force

‘We are witnessing the criminalisation of entire movements,’ police observers warn

CAMPAIGNERS have condemned the outrageous policing operation in Leicester against the occupation of an arms factory by Palestinian activists on the day new police powers against protests come into force.

An ongoing protest by Palestine Action at a UAV Tactical Systems site in Meridian Business Park saw Leicester Police arrest 26 protesters on Tuesday.

The Israeli-French drone factory, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, was targeted for supplying Israel’s military with campaigners believing they could be used on Palestinian civilians.

But the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) condemned the “excessive policing” that saw police smash their way into parked cars to search them.
 
Leicester Police say the 26 were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage, which the campaign groups called “spurious grounds.”

CAAT media co-ordinator Emily Apple said: “The policing operation in Leicester against Palestine Action was outrageous. 

“We not only have a right, but a duty to protest against immoral arms sales. 

“People in Leicester are rightly angry about having a weapons factory on their doorstep and they should be allowed to express this anger without police harassment. 

“But the police are showing, once again, that they are there to protect the interests of arms dealers whilst stamping over our right to dissent.”

The campaigners highlighted how the heavy-handed policing comes as the Public Order Act received royal assent today.

The new laws grant police sweeping powers to shut down any demonstrations organised by groups considered a threat.

But the campaigners say that the police response in Leicester shows that new powers are not needed as they already abuse them.

The preventative powers will allow police to even stop peaceful protests on the grounds that they might become disruptive.

Netpol campaigns co-ordinator Kevin Blowe said: “The right to assemble and protest is under the worst attack for decades. 

“On top of new, more severe offences and even more new police powers, this also leads to a massive increase in police surveillance. 

“We are witnessing the criminalisation of entire movements in order to send a warning that civil disobedience tactics — in any circumstances — are liable to result in an aggressive response from the police.”

Palestine Action said its “siege” of the site continued into its third day today despite the heavy-handed police response.

Leicester Police called its response “proportionate” and that it has taken action against anyone committing a public offence.

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