Recently its been reported in mainstream news waving a Palestinian flag or singing a chant advocating freedom for Arabs in the region may be a criminal offence, Suella Braverman has told senior police officers.
What does the law say?
As it currently stands there is no legislative policy, contract or law in place that can criminalise individuals who wave their Palestinian flags or to sing and chant supporting the Palestinians. The government published in 2021 on their website information regarding the flying of flags
Flags are a very British way of expressing joy and pride – they are emotive symbols which can boost local and national identities, strengthen community cohesion and mark civic pride.
The government wants to see more flags flown, particularly the Union Flag, the flag of the United Kingdom. It is a symbol of national unity and pride. The government has recently issued guidance encouraging the flying of the Union Flag on all UK government buildings throughout the year, alongside other national and local flags.
Some flags require formal consent (permission) from the local planning authority, whereas others like the Union Flag do not.
The full list of flags that do not require consent are:
- Any country’s national flag, civil ensign or civil air ensign
- The flag of the Commonwealth, the United Nations or any other international organisation of which the United Kingdom is a member
- A flag of any island, county, district, borough, burgh, parish, city, town or village within the United Kingdom
- The flag of the Black Country, East Anglia, Wessex, any Part of Lincolnshire, any Riding of Yorkshire or any historic county within the United Kingdom
- The flag of Saint David
- The flag of Saint Patrick
- The flag of any administrative area within any country outside the United Kingdom
- Any flag of His Majesty’s forces
- The Armed Forces Day flag
The use of the word “country” in (1) and (7) of the list above, includes any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and any British Overseas Territory.https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/flying-flags-a-plain-english-guide/flying-flags-a-plain-english-guide#a-flags-which-do-not-need-consent
Article 10 – Freedom of Expression
Lets see what the Human Rights Act states in regards to your rights…
The Human rights act 1998
- Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
- The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Now lets see what the UDHR states in regards to your rights….
Article 19 – Freedom of Expression
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights vs Human Rights Act 1998
Have you ever wondered about the distinctions between these two approaches and why it’s challenging to have a single, universally applicable framework for all societies, encompassing both public and private domains?
The universal declaration of rights
A declaration created for the purpose of all nations: Universal – Hard to enforce in seperate states
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. The UDHR is widely recognized as having inspired, and paved the way for, the adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, applied today on a permanent basis at global and regional levels.https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights#:~:text=Article%2010,any%20criminal%20charge%20against%20him.
In simpler terms, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) acts as a universal declaration agreed and accepted by all treaties – It is lawfully binding (due to its nature to reflect divine law) but not Legally binding (due to each society having its own separate jurisdictions).
This is why we in our country UK have the Human Rights Act. It is a specific set of rules created based on the UDHR to make those principles work within a particular country or community. It’s a way of taking the universal ideas of the UDHR and adapting them to fit a specific place’s laws and practices.
The human rights act 1998
Created for the purpose of individual societies: Regional – Enforceable by law in UK
The Human Rights Act 1998 sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to. It incorporates the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law. The Human Rights Act came into force in the UK in October 2000.https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights/human-rights-act
The Human Rights Act is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). To illustrate, think of it like taking the Ten Commandments and adapting it to meet the needs of society. The Ten Commandments are unchangeable laws, whereas governments or public bodies must create laws that include flexibility for additions and removal of clauses to reflect societal changes.
Man-made laws are subject to alterations, additions, or removals, while divine or universal laws are unalterable. The foundation of law traces back to a creator, regardless of one’s belief, and this is how legal systems were born. So, the Human Rights Act represents humanity’s effort to integrate universal principles into their specific societies. It’s like the child of the more authoritative UDHR, which is the adult in this analogy.
Keep in mind that any document enacted by a state with “ACT” in its title typically pertains to a public domain contract, which is enforceable by the state with the consent of its citizens.
So can individuals wave their Palestinian flags without being arrested?
I wish we could just say yes to that.
Under the current law, it’s not illegal to wave a flag. However, because some police officers and government bodies may not fully understand the rule of law, there’s a chance that arrests may occur as an attempt to suppress awareness of the ongoing struggle in Gaza. Fortunately, the rule of law should ultimately prevent any arrests or charges related to carrying or waving a Palestinian flag.
Challenges of the law
Clause 2 of the human rights act:
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Because people in a society have certain responsibilities, there’s a need to balance national security and the existing situation. This means that our freedom of expression, as defined in the Human Rights Act, has some limitations. Freedom of expression can’t be used as an excuse to express racist, harmful, or threatening views. This limitation is quite understandable.
Waving Militia flags and its consequences!
The fastest way to get arrested is to wave a flag associated with groups the government labels as terrorists. Whether you’ll face charges depends on your affiliation with those movements, as shown by the case of Feras Al-Jayoosi, who wore a Quds Brigade t-shirt but wasn’t imprisoned or charged with terrorism.
It’s not a good idea to wear clothing or symbols representing militia groups from Gaza.
Waving a Palestinian flag on British streets “may not be legitimate” if it is done to show support for acts of terrorism, the home secretary has told police chiefsSuella Braverman
However, supporting the Palestinians and their struggle against oppression is perfectly acceptable. The key is to make it clear that your support is for the Palestinian people rather than promoting terrorism. This is important, as the terminology used by figures like Suella suggests that such actions could be seen as acts of terrorism.
Supporting a nation that’s facing oppression by another nation doesn’t make you a terrorist. If it did, supporting Ukraine, for instance, would also be considered supporting terrorism.
In simple terms, if you’re outside and showing your support for Palestine by waving a Palestinian flag while wearing clothing associated with groups like the Quds Brigade or Hamas, and you’re shouting slogans like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” you might get arrested pretty quickly. The reason for this is that you could be seen as potentially supporting militant movements in Gaza, and that’s considered a type of terrorist offense.
On the other hand, if you’re outside waving a Palestinian flag in regular clothing, like your cultural attire or just everyday clothes, you generally won’t be arrested, however, If you’re outside waving a Palestinian flag in regular clothing and chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” as things stand now, you also shouldn’t be arrested.
But here’s the thing – while the law doesn’t outright prohibit your right to freedom of speech in this context, there’s still a chance the police might decide to intervene. So, even though it’s not illegal to wave a Palestinian flag, there’s a slim possibility you could face arrest. However, it’s essential to remember that just waving a flag doesn’t make you a criminal or subject to criminal charges under the current law.