Criminalising political dissent

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‘Criminalising dissent’ is the process of:

  • making activists appear as criminals;
  • oppressively charging and prosecuting activists (weaponising existing laws against activists) , or 
  • making protest action illegal.

Australia has a history of introducing new and repressive laws to ban actions by Aboriginal activists, trade unionists, LGBTQIA+ activists, as well as peace, social justice and environmental activists.

New and repressive laws are used to criminalise previously lawful actions. They help police to repress or control protest.

Trends towards restrictions on free speech and peaceable assembly in Australia are deeply disturbing. It is important, particularly in times of conflict or uncertainty, that the people are able to speak out and be heard.


Dissent and democracy

Dissent, dialogue and even disagreement are vital to a democracy – they should be welcomed and encouraged.

If governments are shutting down discussion on a particular decision, it probably means that the decision cannot survive public scrutiny.

Dissension and discussion during times of crisis or war should not be discouraged. People exercising their right to dissent should not be unjustly punished or demonised.


Maintaining power and wealth

Criminal laws have always been constructed and used to protect capital and private property. This often plays out in decisions to arrest, charge, and prosecute activists. 

The “Australian” legal system is built on the theft of land. Much of the “Australian” legal system continues to be based around laws that protect the rights and privileges of those who own property or manage wealth. 

It is a common view that the criminal legal system works to the advantage of the rich and privileged – rather than protecting our rights to advocate for change.


The Media

Dissent in society is also often ‘criminalised’ by the mainstream media.

Statements of politicians and media reporting can influence how to general public see activists.

Often, unbalanced reporting that focuses on arrests and not the issue will make ordinary people see activists as “criminals”.

Similarly, reporting that ignores police violence and only shows angry activists can criminalise activists in the eyes of the general public.



See also Police tactics at protests.

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Criminalising political dissent

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