Northern Ireland news

Fines handed to Black Lives Matter protesters 'must be rescinded'

A Black Lives Matter protest in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

Fines handed out to Black Lives Matter protesters in Belfast and Derry last year should be rescinded, several politicians have said.

The PSNI said earlier this year that that neither they nor the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) have powers to rescind the fines.

Around 70 people were handed fixed penalty notices, most of which were paid, following protests in June last year.

However, there have been renewed calls for the fines to be reimbursed following the PPS's decision not to prosecute 14 protesters referred to prosecutors by the PSNI.

Lilian Seenoi-Barr, who organised the protest at Derry's Guildhall Square, said the PPS's decision vindicated the protesters.

"We knew from the outset that we had a human right to protest, a human right that was breached by the PSNI," she told BBC Radio Foyle.

She said organisers had worked hard to make the event as safe as possible.

She said: "What the PSNI did that day was disrupt the effort that we had put in place.

"We followed all the regulations and then what happened? We were criminalised."

A Black Lives Matter protest in Belfast last year. Picture by Mal McCann

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said the fines must be paid back - a call echoed by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

Mr Kelly said: "The PSNI should immediately review their human rights training programme for officers to ensure these mistakes are not only never repeated again, but that ethnic minorities are treated with the utmost respect and dignity."

Mr Eastwood said: "I have called for the fines issued to protestors to be dropped. This must happen as soon as possible."

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said the protesters have been vindicated.

"Start to finish, this ordeal has been a shambles of discrimination and harrassment and I hope that redress of some sort can be expected," he said.

Green Party NI MLA Rachel Woods welcomed the PSNI's apology.

"Now, I would like to see a mechanism created by which any fines accepted on the day or paid to date can be refunded or donated to charities working with minority ethnic communities," she said.

The DUP said the PPS's decision "raises other questions".

Policing Board member Mervyn Storey and chair of the Justice Committee Paul Givan said definitions around outdoor gatherings need to be clarified.

"Given the reduction in risk of transmission outdoors and the issues raised by the PPS it lends weight to calls from my colleagues to see outdoor restrictions lifted," they said.

"There are questions too for the PSNI around how they balance human rights considerations such as the right to protest and the right to peaceful assembly."

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