‘Criminalising dissent’ is the process of making activists appear as criminals or, making protest action illegal.
Australia has a history of introducing new and repressive laws to ban actions by Aboriginal activists, trade unionists, gays and lesbians, peace and social justice activists and environmentalists. These laws are used to criminalise previously lawful actions and allow the police to repress or control these actions.
Trends towards restrictions on free speech and peaceable assembly in Australia are deeply disturbing. It is particularly important in times of conflict or uncertainty that the voices of the people are able to inform decisions being contemplated by government.
Dissent, dialogue and even disagreement are the cherished hallmarks of democracy and should be welcomed and encouraged. To take the position that different voices, thoughts, ideas and options cannot be heard on critical issues of society or government decision-making suggests that those government decisions cannot survive discussion or scrutiny.
Dissension and discussion during times of crisis or war should not be discouraged, nor should society or government cast aspersions on those who exercise their right to dissent.
Dissent in society is also 'criminalised' by the mainstream media, the statements of politicians and the views of ordinary people in society who, because an activist is getting arrested, see them only as a criminal.
The historical construction of criminal laws to protect capital and private property relations is also relevant to the issue of activism. Much of our legal system is 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 justice system, despite reforms over this century, still works to the advantage of those with substantial wealth and privilege rather than protecting our rights to work for change.