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Your right to protest

If you're thinking of taking to the streets in protest against...well...everything going on at the moment, make sure you know your rights and how to stay safe.

When the mood gets heated, it can sometimes be hard to avoid the tiny minority of aggressive nutters - on both sides - who want to hurt people. So if you're planning on taking part in a protest - or starting your own - here's what you need to know.

You have a right to peacefully protest

Unlike US citizens, you can't invoke The Constitution which enshrines, in law, the right to peacefully assemble. Because we don't have one. But we do have the Human Rights Act. In 2000, the UK adopted the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 (the right to freedom of assembly) and article 10 (the right to freedom of expression and thought) are your friends. Public bodies are forbidden to act in any way which conflict with these principles.

Don't go it alone

Protesting can be tiring and scary. Make sure you take a mate - someone you trust, who'll look after you. Bring water, warm clothes if it's cold and snacks - getting kettled for hours can be a hungry business.

Use your camera wisely

Sometimes it can seem like there are more cameras than protesters, but remember some people might not want to end up on Facebook or YouTube. Ask before you pap a fellow protestor. The police can stop you taking a picture if they have reason to suspect you might be involved in terrorism.

Use Twitter to stay out of trouble

New protest, new media: use Twitter to keep in touch and find out what's happening in real time. Protesters usually decide on a hashtag to keep each other updated. Watch out for rumours though - not every tweet is true.

What happens if the police stop me?

Even if you're protesting peacefully, if you're in a public place, the police can stop you and ask what you're doing there (called a 'stop and account'). You are not required to give your name or address, but the officer responsible (who must provide a receipt recording the encounter) will probably be unhappy if you don't co-operate. If they suspect you're carrying a weapon or engaging in terrorist activity, the police can search you, called a 'stop and search'. They're legally allowed to use force if you refuse to be searched.

Stop and account and stop and search are sometimes used by police at demonstrations, especially when letting people out of a kettle. The police also use Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) to photograph protesters - something people have protested about.

What if I get arrested?

No one leaves the house hoping to end the day at a police station, but arrest is possible at any demonstration, especially if the atmosphere is tense. If something happens to you or a friend, track down a legal observer - volunteers who try to ensure arrested protesters are treated correctly - and try to take the badge number of the officers involved in the arrest.

Updated: 26/11/2012

Emma Rubach


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