A vote by Ealing Council that could see anti-abortion protesters banned from demonstrating outside a clinic in a bid to protect women from harassment raises troubling implications for freedom of expression.
Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg said: “We support people’s right to protest publicly and openly. In a free and democratic society that may mean hearing things that shock, offend or disturb. However, protesters do not have the right to physically intimidate others or prevent their free movement. Nevertheless, the suggested use of buffer zones by a London council to prevent protests has the potential to set a dangerous precedent that could be used against all forms of speech – including those who wish to protest on environmental or political issues, for example. Buffer zones are too a blunt tool to deal with public protests. We have legislation that deals with harassment and maintaining public access. Protesters who block the free movement of others or physically harass others could be pursued under that legislation.”