Extinction Rebellion has criticised a “ridiculous” government proposal to treat the climate emergency protest movement as an organised crime group.
Home secretary Priti Patel is understood to want to take a fresh look at how the group is classified under the law after activists targeted print works and prevented several leading UK newspapers reaching the stands on Saturday.
One option under consideration could see Extinction Rebellion classified as an organised crime group, according to reports – leaving organisers at risk of jail sentences of up to five years.
“The suggestion Extinction Rebellion should be reclassified as an ‘organised crime group’ is ridiculous,” the group responded.
A spokesperson said: “[Organised crime] is hardly an accurate description of the thousands of ordinary people – the nurses, the doctors, the grandparents and others – who take part in Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent protests.”
Parliament, courts and the press, meanwhile, could be given special protective status from disruptive action by the group under another proposal.
“It would be illegal to stop MPs going to vote or judges getting to court and it would also protect a free press,” a government source told the Press Association.
Ms Patel warned on Monday that any environmental activists who “plot and scheme to curtail our freedoms” would face the “full force” of the law.
“I am committed to ensuring that the police have powers required to tackle the disruption caused by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and I will be looking at every opportunity available, including primary legislation, to ensure that there is a full suite of tools available to tackle this behaviour,” the home secretary wrote in The Daily Mail.
“We want to see some people banged up instead of escaping with a fine they can pay from their trust fund,” one unnamed Home Office official told the newspaper, suggesting the government could seek to use the 2015 Serious Crime Act to re-classify the group.
It comes after more than 100 demonstrators used vehicles and bamboo lock-ons to block roads outside the Newsprinters works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, on Friday evening, with both protests continuing until Saturday afternoon.
Merseyside Police said they had arrested 30 people, while Hertfordshire Police said they had taken 50 people into custody.
Extinction Rebellion has vowed to engage in non-violent civil disobedience for a second consecutive week. A spokesperson said protests would highlight “the urgent need to transform our system into one that stops the harm and supports all life and our planet”.
The Independent has approached the Home Office for comment.
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