| GENEVA, March 30
GENEVA, March 30 Nineteen U.S. states have
introduced bills that would curb freedom of expression and the
right to protest since Donald Trump's election as president, an
"alarming and undemocratic" trend, U.N. human rights
investigators said on Thursday.
Concerns for free speech in the United States have risen in
part because of the Republican Trump's antagonistic relations
with prominent U.S. media, which he has branded "the enemy of
the American people" as it has reported on policy missteps and
dysfunction in his administration.
The push for stricter laws on expression has come as Trump's
liberal foes have pursued public protest against his policies on
issues ranging from immigration to abortion and climate change.
Maina Kiai and David Kaye, independent U.N. experts on
freedom of peaceful assembly and expression respectively, said
in a statement that the state bills were incompatible with
international human rights law.
"The trend also threatens to jeopardise one of the United
States’ constitutional pillars: free speech," they said in a
statement, calling for action to reverse such legislation.
“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
organisations across (American) society have mobilised in
peaceful protests,” Kiai and Kaye said.
They said it was their fundamental right to do so, but that
bills in Republican-governed states like Indiana, Arkansas,
Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Missouri sought to
stop them exercising that right.
The civil rights movement known as Black Lives Matter has
been fuelled by a series of shootings of unarmed black men by
white U.S. police officers that triggered national protests.
The U.N. experts' statement came a day after they criticised
Russia's treatment of peaceful protesters who took to the
streets following allegations of corruption against Prime
Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The U.S. State Department had also criticised Russia's
handling of those protests, calling them an affront to
Supporters of the U.S. state legislative action say it sums
up the frustration some people feel about protests that get in
the way of daily lives, and reflects a wish to maintain public
safety. Free speech advocates say the bills are worrying, seeing
them as opening the way to criminalising peaceful protests.
The U.N. experts said several bills proposed in Colorado,
North Dakota and Oklahoma targeted opponents of the Dakota
Access Pipeline in North Dakota and would have "a chilling
effect on environmental protesters".
Last month dozens of armed U.S. law enforcement officers
swept through a protest camp near the site of the pipeline,
clearing the gathering that for months served as a base of
opposition to the multi-billion-dollar project.
In Missouri a bill proposed a seven-year prison term for
"unlawful obstruction of traffic", while the Minnesota bill
would criminalise peaceful protesters for participating in
demonstrations that subsequently turned violent.
The U.N. experts said there was no such thing as a violent
protest, only violent protesters. "One person’s decision to
resort to violence does not strip other protesters of their
right to freedom of peaceful assembly," Kaye and Kiai said.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Mark Heinrich)