Whitehall seeks ban on noisy political demos

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT plans to protect 'diplomats' dignity' by banning noisy demonstrations outside embassies in London.

The Department of the Environment and the Foreign Office are proposing that only participants in military parades and religious marches will be allowed to chant and sing in the embassy- land of Kensington and Belgravia. Anyone trying to shout protests against foreign governments will face prosecution.

Details of the proposed clampdown are set out in a DoE consultation document on noise abatement procedures which has astonished civil liberties groups. John Wadham, legal officer for the Liberty group, said that no one interested in the right to protest in Britain had been consulted about the change in the law.

Liberty only learned of the proposal when it was contacted by the Noise Abatement Society - a pressure group devoted to making Britain quieter. The society had been surprised to discover that demonstrators outside embassies were to be treated like owners of ghetto-blasters and howling dogs. At present, a council can only serve a noise abatement notice on people making a din in their homes. Failure to comply is a criminal offence punishable by magistrates.

The proposed law will allow councils to take the same action against 'noisy activities and equipment' in the streets. Besides 'noisy demonstrations staged outside premises such as diplomatic missions', the targets include the owners of diesel generators, parked refrigerator vans and malfunctioning car alarms.

The DoE has excluded non- political marches from the ban. 'There would be an exemption for lawful processions and assemblies such as military or religious processions,' the document says.

This year there have been large protests outside the Iranian embassy, against the execution of opponents of the regime; outside the Turkish embassy, over the oppression of the Kurds; and outside the Chinese embassy, over the Tiananmen Square massacre.

A DoE spokeswoman said: 'There are many demonstrations which the police may regard as legal which make a lot of noise. Under the Vienna Convention we are obliged to ensure that embassies do not suffer from disturbances which would impair their dignity.' The plan to prevent noisy demonstrations had come from the Foreign Office's protocol section.

Mr Wadham said: 'People should be able to shout slogans or sing songs on demonstrations. To ban them on the spurious grounds of noise abatement shows the almost casual contempt for human rights in this country.'