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‘It’s a human rights violation’ #FreeBritney protesters hold rally at Utah Capitol

(Connor Sanders | The Salt Lake Tribune) More than 50 protestors gathered at the state Capitol to voice support for Britney Spears during her conservatorship hearing Wednesday.

As Britney Spears attended a hearing over her conservatorship in Los Angeles on Wednesday, more than 50 protesters gathered outside of the Utah Capitol to voice their support for the #FreeBritney movement.

The rally was held as part of a nationwide protest over the treatment of Spears, who is seeking her own legal representation after losing the right to manage her estate in 2008. Spears wants to be released from the oversight of her father, Jamie, who controls the singer’s assets after he was appointed conservator by private wealth-management company Bessemer Trust.

Shannon Egan, founder of Free Britney Utah, said she has always been “a die hard Britney fan” but was motivated to support the movement because of discrimination she experienced in her own life.

“Here in Utah, women are suppressed,” Egan said. “We’re silenced. That’s honestly why I decided to do this because I’m really sick and tired of it. I want to empower women. I want to support women.”

Egan was born in Salt Lake City and describes growing up in a “strict religious household here in the LDS community.” Watching Spears explain her hardships to the court, including that she was prevented from getting her IUD removed to try and have another child as a condition of the conservatorship, touched Egan.

(Connor Sanders | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shannon Egan, founder of Free Britney Utah, addresses a crowd of protesters outside of the capitol building.

“That’s why [Spears’ conservatorship] hits home for me as a woman growing up as a Mormon,” Egan said. “I was kind of told I was here to multiply and replenish the earth — kind of what my place was.”

Egan, who is an author and formerly worked as a freelance journalist and press officer for the United Nations, started the Free Britney Utah Facebook page on July 2.

She said she was surprised when more than 120 people shared her post about the protest. Spears’ case caused Egan to “get really super educated” on how conservatorships work in the United States.

She found “thousands” of instances of disabled people being abused and stolen from by conservators. Conservatorships are meant to care for incapacitated or incompetent people by appointing a person to manage their affairs, and Spears’ experience is an example of how they can be dangerous, Egan said.

“What I’ve found is appalling… The fact that this is happening to a woman of the free world in front of our very eyes is shocking. If people aren’t up in arms about this it’s because they’re not doing their research,” Egan said.

Egan began the protest by playing some of Spears’ music before addressing the crowd. Protestors held aloft signs that read “Leave Britney Alone,” “Jamie, You Better Work B****,” and “Free Britney and all women from controlling abusive men and systems.” She pushed back against the notion that she and other protesters are just “celebrity worshipers”.

(Connor Sanders | The Salt Lake Tribune) More than 50 protestors gathered at the capitol building to voice support for Britney Spears during her conservatorship hearing Tuesday.

“There’s no way you could read into all of the research that has come out about the abusive conservatorship system, the probate court system and specifically Britney Spears’ situation and not be upset about it,” Egan said. “It’s a huge human rights violation.”

Lehi-born musician Jacob Berkowitz said that Spears’ music helped him while he was growing up as a gay man in Utah. He said listening to her songs made him feel like a “superstar” and reminded the crowd that, “celebrities are people too.”

Berkowitz asked that U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee reconsider conservatorship laws in America.

Egan called for the U.S. Congress to hold states more accountable and knocked the lack of oversight that exists for estate managers. She asked for more hearings, more data collection on conservatorship cases and concrete supervision of conservators.

Free Britney Utah is considering scheduling a future protest on a weekend to encourage more participation. For now, the Utah chapter is waiting for further instructions from the movement’s organizers, who are based out of Los Angeles.

“I think the Free Britney movement will continue in Utah until she is free and the people responsible are held accountable,” Egan said. “If we don’t stand up for our human rights, who will?”

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