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Containment includes a range of common police tactics such as creating barricades or walls of police to prevent activists getting to an area, separating activists or keeping them contained in one small area.

At the September 2000 protest against the World Economic Forum in Melbourne, Crown Casino was surrounded by a long concrete and wire fence to prevent activists getting close to the Forum venue. At recent large marches and rallies in Europe and the USA police have used well fortified containment areas to fence or blockade activists into areas well away from the target of protest action.

At the 'Stop Star Wars' national protests at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory in 2002, police used intensive containment lines to control activist movements. Police used three highly disciplined lines of police to prevent activists approaching the main gates to the Pine Gap base.

Lines of police horses can also be used to contain or separate activists. Long lines of police officers can deter and prevent activists from getting inside an area, or building, and can effectively limit the protest. It also means that in order for activists to protest or intervene in a particular building or event, conflict can become centred on the police lines.

No-protest zones

No protest or ‘exclusion’ zones are a relatively new police tactic. In 2001, in light of large global justice protests taking place around the world, the United States government proposed enclosing more than 40 city blocks of Washington, D.C. with 2 miles of 3-metre high fencing and concrete, and banning all peaceful protest and assembly near the White House or the IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings.

This proposal was later abandoned, however many large global justice protests have met 'no-protests zones' (see, Ericson & Doyle 1999; Gillham & Marx 2000 for description and analysis of policing of two global justice protests).

In 2001, police in Victoria created a huge exclusion zone surrounding the Crown casino district in Melbourne for the 3 days of protests against the world economic forum using water filled road barriers and cyclone fencing. In 2006 during the G20 meetings, police used road barriers to block off entire streets and prevent protests getting close to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne’s central business district. The road closures and temporary barriers around the Grand Hyatt Hotel, backed by lines of police officers effectively prevented people from protesting within sight or earshot of the visiting G20 dignitaries and representatives.

The Victoria Police Manual chapter on public order events suggests that barriers are a preventative measure and suggests police to set up barriers as soon as possible. “Early occupation [by protesters] of proposed sites may develop into a crowd control situation. If used, erect and staff barriers before the participants assemble.”

The use of area-denial methods such as barricades remains controversial. Where police use their powers to conceal a protest from view, this can amount to denial of the right to protest. A protest that is made ineffectual is likely to negate rather than limit the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, as well as the right to freedom of expression.  Any restriction on the right of peaceful assembly must be demonstrably justified by reference to one or more of the objectives listed in Article 21 of the ICCPR itself, or it will be unlawful.

In September 2007, NSW police enforced a very large “exclusionary zone” surrounding the Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation summit (APEC) meeting in Sydney.  

Protest 'Pens' or ‘Kettling’

A police pen, (using barricades to pen protestors into particular zones to prevent dispersal and breakaway marches) was used during the eviction of Occupy Melbourne from the City Square in Melbourne on 15 October 2011.  Police had contractors erect high temporary fencing around the City Square in order to prevent people joining those inside and to maintain control of the area whilst they forcibly evicted protestors and removed the tents etc inside.  People were allowed out of the pen but were not permitted back in. The fencing was also surrounded by a large physical cordon by police who served to control access.

‘Kettling’ is a similar tactic used in the United Kingdom and United States which has been an ongoing source of tension between demonstrators and police.  Essentially police used a variety of physical barriers and police cordons (rows of police) to surround a protest and keep people inside that cordon. Kettling can be used to severely restrict people’s freedom of movement, enclosing large groups of people in certain sections of a road or a public space.

Police may let people leave the area at times, however they may not permit people to re-enter the area. This means that people at a rally, who wish to go across the road for a coffee or to use the toilet, will not be able to return to the rally.  In this way, kettling serves to deny people their basic right to peaceful assemble.

The New York Civil Liberties Union report ‘Arresting Protest’ highlighted the misuse of protest pens at the February 15, 2003 anti-war rally, and it is clear that this practice has continued despite a US court order to the contrary.

Also see NYC Justice Corps