US anti-protest bills ‘attack on free speech right’

US anti-protest bills ‘attack on free speech right’
Bills being pushed by Republican lawmakers in several states would make engaging in free speech activities extremely dangerous; they threaten people’s ability to speak out, says human rights attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard.

UN human rights experts have condemned bills introduced in 19 US states that target different forms of free speech. They say they violate America’s First Amendment protection and international human rights standards.

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,” reads a statement by Maina Kiai and David Kaye.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, human rights attorney and co-founder of Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, discussed the trend with RT America’s Simone Del Rosario.

RT: In your opinion, what are these bills targeting and why?

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: Right now, what we’re seeing all across the US is a wholesale attack on basic free speech rights. It is so dangerous. It simply cannot be overstated. From state, to state, to state – there are bills being introduced that basically make engaging in free speech activities extremely dangerous. They threaten the ability of the people to be able to come out together, to be able to speak out. So some of these bills are trying to increase offenses and charges to felonies for what used to be minor misdemeanors. They have bills being proposed that would criminalize blocking traffic in ways that are unheard of. A demonstration that is in the street – on sidewalks, the parklands- suddenly that becomes criminal in a way that threatens anyone who wants to go out.

RT: Are we seeing a division between those who are for those bills and those that against it?

MVH: Well, I think this is really something that is coming about because of the election of Donald Trump. He has given a green light to police forces and to all those legislators around the country who want to shut down free speech. A lot of these bills are clearly directed at demonstrators who are engaging in social justice activism in environmental defense and other things where, if don’t have that kind of democratic action; there is going to be such a threat to the future of this country.

RT:We see a lot of activities recently like the Dakota Pipeline Protest, or the Black Lives Matter protest that may have motivated some against the causes from these protests from actually happening. At the same time do you see a cause for the people on the right and on the left to all be driven to protect this right?

MVH: No matter what your belief is, no matter what your ideology – it is fundamental in the US that you have the right to come out. You have the right to speak out, and you should be able to do so. And say your mind – be able to speak your mind. But these bills threaten everyone. They threaten everyone no matter what your point of view. But I do believe right now they are absolutely focused on a movement that has taken in the streets in the last few months, where we’re seeing a political force in the US that is not Congress; that is in opposition to the President and his policies – and that is a force of people. And that is why we’re seeing this happen.

RT: Do you see a possibility of this coming around and biting the people who are currently for these bills in the rear?

MVH: …Once they are on the books, they affect anyone no matter what your political belief is. So if you want to come out and protest regardless if you’re protesting on the right, or if you’re protesting for progressive causes – these bills will affect everyone. But right now the movement for social change and social change in America – is a progressive movement. That is why I think we’re seeing these bills being introduced, being introduced by right-wing legislators, and also by those that are supporting the oil, gas, and fossil fuels industry; or those that are otherwise supporting corporate interest and they want to shut down people’s opposition.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.