Should protests that stop legal activities be a criminal offence?

The ABC reports:

The United Nations has called on the West Australian Government to withdraw controversial new legislation that imposes harsh penalties on protesters.

The proposed laws were first introduced into Parliament in March 2015, and the Government insists it will only target radical protesters using devices like chains or thumb locks to block or stop lawful activities.

But the UN said it would “result in criminalising lawful and silencing environmentalists and human rights defenders”.

“If the bill passes, it would go against Australia’s international obligations under international human rights law, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression as well as peaceful assembly and association,” the UN Human Rights Office said in a statement.

“The bill would criminalise a wide range of legitimate conduct by creating criminal offences for the acts of physically preventing a lawful activity and possessing an object for the purpose of preventing a lawful activity.

 “For example, peaceful civil disobedience and any non-violent direct action could be characterised as ‘physically preventing a lawful activity’.”

Under the proposed legislation, an offence would carry serious penalties of imprisonment of one year and a fine of $12,000.

If the offence was committed in circumstances of aggravation, the penalty could be as high as imprisonment for two years and a fine of $24,000.

I guess there are three sorts of protests:

  1. Protests that do not stop or hinder others
  2. Protests that do stop or hinder others from their legal business
  3. Protests that are violent

Category 1 should always be legal and protected.

Category 3 should face criminal sanctions.

The in between category is more challenging. I like the idea of a specific offence for them, as you do want penalties for hindering others from their legal rights and duties. However I think imprisonment as a penalty goes too far.

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