The Right to Demonstrate

Paul Harris
27 Sep 07

The Right to Demonstrate
Paul Harris, 2007
Rights Press, Hong Komg
433 pp
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The peaceful demonstration gives a voice to the voiceless. Today, demonstrations are everyday events in many countries and the right of citizens to hold peaceful protests and marches is widely recognized.

In the age in which the media is controlled by a small number of individuals, in those places where the right to demonstrate is treasured, all citizens have the power to draw issues which concern them to the attention of governments and their fellow citizens by the simple act of marching in the streets. However, it is only just 200 years since the idea of peaceful demonstrations first developed.

Barrister and human rights expert Paul Harris traces the right to hold demonstrations to the ancient right to petition the English crown. He then describes how in eighteen century England rioting was gradually replaced by peaceful demonstrations, leading eventually to Parliamentary democracy.

He then looks at the spread of peaceful demonstrations around the world with successful eight-hour day demonstrations in Australia and workers’ May Day marches. He then describes how, in the twentieth century, the right to hold a demonstrations was slowly recognized as a right in itself.

The power of peaceful demonstrations to bring about great changes to the lives of millions is illustrated by the stories of Mahatma Gandhi deliberately but peacefully breaking the law during his campaign for India independence and Martin Luther King using demonstrations to break down segregation laws.

This comprehensive examination of the subject also considers symbolic demonstrations like flag-burning; environmental demonstrations by Greenpeace and other organizations; the tension between demonstrations and the rights and freedoms of others; “People Power” in the Philippines; and the Tian An Men Square massacre in Beijing in 1989. Its conclusion is that peaceful demonstrations are a force for good that should be everyone’s right in every country.

Paul Harris is a practising barrister and Senior Counsel in Hong Kong. Born in England, he was educated at Lincoln College, Oxford. In Hong Kong, he founded Human Rights Monitor, the territory's main human rights organisation.This book will interest and inspire anyone who has ever wished to bring about change by peaceful means.

“If you don’t want Hong Kong to become like Singapore – read this book!”
– Martin Lee QC, SC

“This is a scholarly and comprehensive account of the freedom to demonstrate. This should be regarded as a universal right – a point impressively made by Paul Harris with all the authority that one expects of someone who founded a widely respected human rights organisation.”
– Chris Patten, Former Governor of Hong Kong

“Paul Harris has written an excellent – and also the first – history of the right to demonstrate. Briskly and readably written this book ranges from Magna Carta to the twenty first century, over most of the world, from the United Kingdom to America and to Tian An Men Square in China. “An impressive achievement.”
– The late Lord Gilmour, former Conservative Cabinet Minister

“Few authors can write with the depth of experience and record of commitment which barrister and human rights campaigner Paul Harris brings to this work. The very idea to catalogue the development of the peaceful demonstration is a peaceful demonstration in itself – against arbitrary abuse of power, absence of free speech or free assembly, denial of democracy. This book serves notice on the world’s remaining autocrats: you are on what President Clinton calls “the wrong side of history” The power of the human spirit – people power – will bring you down.”
– Graham Watson, MEP

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