Washington DC (Tasnim) – A number of US states have introduced bills that attack the right to protest and assembly since President Donald Trump took office in January, according to United Nations human rights experts, who urge members of Congress to stop the “alarming and undemocratic” trend.
“Since January 2017, a number of undemocratic bills have been proposed in state legislatures with the purpose or effect of criminalizing peaceful protests,” independent UN experts on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, David Kaye and Maina Kiai, said in a recent statement.
At least 19 states have introduced legislation that would criminalize peaceful protest. The measures come amid a wave of protests in the US over the past few years, which have intensified in recent months with the election of Trump, Press TV reported.
“The bills, if enacted into law, would severely infringe upon the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in ways that are incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law and with First Amendment protections,” the UN investigators warned.
“From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the environmental and Native American movements in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and the Women’s Marches, individuals and organizations across society have mobilized in peaceful protests, as it is their right under international human rights law and US law,” they said.
Legislators in states such as Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Virginia and Washington State have advanced or voted on bills to stiffen penalties for demonstrators who block highways and to increase sanctions for offenses related to rioting.
In North Dakota, Republicans have introduced legislation that would allow motorists to run over and kill protesters, as long as the crash was accidental. Similar bills have been introduced in Florida and Tennessee.
Lawmakers in Indiana want to allow police to use “any means necessary” to remove protesters from a roadway.
Bills in other states also seek to dramatically increase punishment for people who “unlawfully” assemble after having been warned to disperse.
“These state bills, with their criminalization of assemblies, enhanced penalties and general stigmatization of protesters, are designed to discourage the exercise of these fundamental rights,” the UN experts said.
The experts particularly expressed concerns about the characterization of protests as being “unlawful” or “violent.”
“There can be no such thing in law as a violent protest,” they noted. “There are violent protesters, who should be dealt with individually and appropriately by law enforcement. One person’s decision to resort to violence does not strip other protesters of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”