Adverts that defend the Human Rights Act by Amnesty International have been deemed “too political” for Britain’s railways and ditched by Network Rail.
Human rights campaigners have branded Network Rail’s decision “very small-minded”.
Amnesty said Network Rail made the decision on Monday evening, “at the last minute”, as its adverts were due to appear on train stations from Tuesday.
This was despite the fact Transport for London ran the adverts in Westminster Tube Station. A van drove also around London on Tuesday displaying one of the adverts.
Kate Allen, Amnesty’s UK director, rejected Network Rail’s argument, saying she was “very disappointed”.
She added: “We simply don’t accept that basic human rights are ever a political issue.
“The irony is that human rights cross party-political lines and so do failures, cover-ups and abuses.
“Successive governments managed to let down the Hillsborough families, and their story demonstrates precisely why we need enduring human rights protections which aren’t redrafted by the government of the day, on a political whim.
“It’s vital to safeguard basic rights in these politically volatile times as constant protections relied on by ordinary people.”
Groups such as Amnesty have been fighting to stop the abolition of the Human Rights Act, which the Conservatives pledges to do in their last election manifesto.
In a statement, Network Rail said: “We first saw the adverts yesterday and on inspection, they don’t meet our rules on ‘political’ advertising.
“We aim to be fair and even-handed when deciding which adverts to accept in our stations and have a set of rules in place to ensure all advertising is treated equally.”
Feminist campaigner and writer Caroline Criado-Perez hit out on Twitter at the suggestion the adverts were “too political”, saying adverts that objectified women are routinely displayed and not thought of as political.
She mockingly summarised Network Rail’s attitude as: “Objectifying women is fine... After all, presenting women as slabs of meat isn’t a political stance, it’s just normal.
“Providing information to citizens on how their rights are protected, however, is dangerously radical.”
The advertising agency, which booked the space, has moved the adverts “to key roadside billboards, airports and bus shelters”, Amnesty International said.
They were due to run in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and London’s Waterloo and Victoria stations.
Amnesty has stepped up its campaign to protect the Act, emphasising its role in securing justice, including for the families of those killed in the Hillsborough disaster.
Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son Christopher died in the disaster, said: “It’s a very small-minded decision for Network Rail to take. Human rights aren’t political; they cover everyone right across society.
“I don’t think many people know about the Human Rights Act and how important Article 2, which protects the right to life, is. But we do, and the Human Rights Act is one of the most important things in our society.”
Amnesty published a YouGov poll on Tuesday that showed 70% of people were unaware of the Act’s role in securing fresh inquests for the 96 people who died at Hillsborough.
Nearly three quarters - 74% - were unaware the Act is part of the peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Half of people said they would be worried if the repeal of the Act meant redrafting the agreement.