Tasmanian anti-protest bill contravenes Australia’s human rights obligations – UN

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06-21-2012mainakiaiSpecial Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai.
Photo: UN/Jean-Marc Ferré

A group of independent United Nations experts have urged lawmakers in Tasmania to refrain from adopting legislation against protests that disrupt businesses, saying the proposed bill would contravene Australia’s human rights obligations.

Among other things, the experts said that the legislation could silence legitimate and lawful protests, is disproportionate, and targets specific issues such as the environment.

The UN staff spoke of these concerns in a news release this week:

“If passed, the law would almost certainly run afoul of Australia’s human rights obligations, which Tasmania is also obliged to uphold. State governments in Australia need to ensure the legislation they adopt is in line with the country’s international obligations under international human rights law.”

The Tasmanian government argues the law is necessary to prevent businesses being disrupted by protesters, especially as Tasmania has been the focus of debate and demonstrations on environmental concerns.

The bill, which is now before Tasmania’s Upper House, prohibits protests, whether on private or public property, that hinder access to business premises or disrupt business operations.

It imposes mandatory penalties, including fines up to 100,000 Australian dollars ($93,000) for organizations and up to 10,000 Australian dollars ($9,300) for individuals. Repeat offenders face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three months.

“The law itself and the penalties imposed are disproportionate and unnecessary in balancing the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly and the government’s interests in preserving economic or business interests,” said David Kaye, the recently appointed Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

“The bill would have the chilling effect of silencing dissenters and outlawing speech protected by international human rights law.”


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