WORLD UN expert decries new laws targeting racial justice protesters in US


UN expert decries new laws targeting racial justice protesters in US


07:40, May 06, 2021

GENEVA, May 5 (Xinhua) -- New state laws in Florida and Oklahoma in the U.S. aimed at suppressing racial justice protests and the Black Lives Matter movement are deeply disturbing, a UN human rights expert said on Wednesday.

File photo: Agencies

"I am afraid that the adoption of anti-protests laws in Florida and Oklahoma may be part of a snowball effect which started in 2017 with anti-protest legislation spreading through the country," said Clement Voule, the Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, in a press release.

"I strongly urge all states to refrain from going down the same path," Voule was quoted as saying.

The new offense of "mob intimidation" established in Florida criminalizes three or more people who act with "common intent" and "threaten to use imminent force" to "attempt to compel" any person "to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint."

While under the new law in Oklahoma, organizations found to have "conspired" with individuals who are found guilty of certain offenses, including "unlawful assembly," "riot," and "incitement to riot" all of which are broadly defined under existing law, can be fined 10 times the maximum amount of fine authorized for the individual's offense.

"Vague definitions of 'riot', 'mob intimidation', and 'obstruction' as set out in these laws provide excessive discretion to law enforcement authorities to intimidate and criminalize legitimate protest activities," Voule said. "Any restrictions on this fundamental freedom must be narrowly and clearly defined."

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the new laws in Florida and Oklahoma appear to have been enacted as part of an ongoing effort to curtail peaceful protest and the racial justice protests that took place across the U.S. following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, an African American killed by police last May.

Both laws target street protests, which predominantly characterized the racial justice protests.

The new laws are part of a wave of legislation supposedly aimed at restricting racial justice protests in the United States. At least 93 anti-protest bills have been introduced in 35 states since May 2020. In addition to the new laws in Florida and Oklahoma, draft anti-protest laws are moving towards enactment in at least seven other states, according to the OHCHR.

"The targeting of the Black Lives Matter movement, while creating legal protections for those who attack them, is deeply disturbing," Voule said.

UN's experts have repeatedly raised their concerns about excessive force used by the police in the context of peaceful demonstrations. They also called on the U.S. government to adopt wide-ranging reforms to put an end to police violence, and vigorously address systemic racism and racial discrimination.

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