Britons Rail Against Laws That Ban Protests Near Military Bases
In the U.K., a set of laws that protects American bases from protesters has become the target of criticism. These laws — passed without the consent of Parliament under the 120-year-old Military Lands Act of 1892 — have many arguing that the “outrageous and undemocratic” act has been done to curry favor from the U.S.
Since the Ministry of Defense confirmed that the Royal Air Force has carried out more than 2,000 missions with “borrowed” U.S. drones in Afghanistan, protests have escalated.
“The opening of this new drone warfare center has brought home to many people that the use of drones by British forces is not after all, temporary and time-limited. Rather the use of drones to launch ‘risk-free’ airstrikes at great distances is being normalised,” said Chris Cole of Drone Wars U.K.
Many now feel that with the U.K.’s direct involvement with unmanned bombing in Afghanistan, responsibility is now shared between the U.S. and the U.K. Great Britain is currently the only nation the U.S. is currently selling MQ-9 Reaper drones to.
The U.S. has received a large amount of international scorn due to its use of “signature strikes,” which have led to a large number of civilian and non-combatant deaths. After a May speech from President Barack Obama highlighting a policy shift in drone use, strike casualties fell to 271 — nearly a 50 percent decrease from 2012 casualty levels.
The laws ban activities such as setting up a tent next to a base, using a caravan and taking photographs at any of Great Britain’s 150 military bases. The laws also penalize civil ordinance violations, such as failing to clear your dog’s droppings. Two bases where the laws have been established are at Croughton near Milton Keynes and at an abandoned site at Barford St. John. Both of these sites are RAF facilities that have been permanently handed over to the U.S.. They are both thought to be future piloting stations for Afghan drone missions.
These laws expose protesters to the threat of arrest without a warrant. In October, six protesters were tried for trespassing onto RAF Waddington, the first British base to pilot Afghan drones. Earlier in the year, more than 600 campaigners rallied in Lincolnshire — outside of Waddington — to protest the ministry’s announcement.
“We have handed over parts of England to a foreign power with no legitimacy or democratic accountability to the people of this country,” argued MP Fabian Hamilton. ”Part of the sovereign territory of our country is no longer under the control of democratically elected representatives.
“Who has debated introduction of these by-laws? No one. I think it is outrageous. I am not being anti-American. I just care deeply about accountability and democracy. The Americans would never allow this to happen on their territory.”
The introduction of the laws has created a troubling trend. Recently, Parliament passed the Anti-Social Behavior, Crime and Policing Bill, which empowers local councils to criminalize any behavior they deem “annoys” local residents, including peaceful demonstrations, public skateboarding, anti-social drinking, panhandling and “dog-fouling.”
“This bill has shockingly open-ended powers within it that could allow councils to ban everything from protests, to outdoor public meetings, to children’s skateboarding,” said Josie Appleton, convener of civil liberties advocates The Manifest Club. “The list is endless. The Home Office says they don’t think councils will use the law in this way, but this is not good enough. They should not be handing councils open-ended powers in the first place.”
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