anti-monarchist arrested in UK, they were protesting coronation
The Guardian(UK)- Scotland Yard has been accused of an “incredibly alarming” attack on the right to protest after police used new powers to arrest the head of the leading republican movement and other organisers of an approved demonstration just hours before King Charles III’s coronation.
Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic, had been collecting drinks and placards for demonstrators at the main site of the protest on Trafalgar Square two hours before the king was due to arrive at Westminster Abbey when he was stopped along with five others by police on nearby St Martin’s Lane.
The group had been walking behind a rental van containing hundreds of placards when they were approached by the police and searched.
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Harry Stratton, a director at Republic, who arrived as Smith and the other protest organisers were detained, said: “They were collecting the placards and bringing them over when the police stopped them. The guys asked why and they were told: ‘We will tell you that once we have searched the vehicle.’ That’s when they arrested the six organisers.
“We asked on what grounds they had been arrested but they wouldn’t say. It is a surprise as we had had a number of meetings with the police. They had been making all the right noises.”
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell said the police had reneged on private assurances that the anti-monarchist protest could go ahead unimpeded.
He said: “They have gone back on these promises by arresting the head of Republic, seizing their placards and megaphones, submitting those here to photographic surveillance and constructing a watchtower in front of the demonstration so that the king would not see the protest as he passed by on the way to the palace.”
A wall was also constructed around Trafalgar Square mid-morning that blocked off many late-arriving protesters from joining the demonstration. They instead held a march around the perimeter.
Scotland Yard later said “several” arrests had been made for breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause public disorder, adding that lock-on devices used by protesters to attach themselves to street furniture had been found. The allegation was denied by Republic.
A Met spokesperson said: “We have made a number of arrests in the area of Carlton House Terrace. The individuals have been held on suspicion of breaching the peace. Earlier today we arrested four people in the area of St Martin’s Lane. They were held on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance. We seized lock-on devices.
“A further three people were arrested in the area of Wellington Arch. They were held on suspicion of possessing articles to cause criminal damage. There will be further updates.”
Stratton said the organizers of the protest had not possessed lock-on devices. “What would we lock on to? We are just protesting.” He added that one protestor at Trafalgar Square had been taken away by police as he had string on him. “It’s string that was part of his placard, he said. “What was he going to do with that?”
The Met police had tweeted earlier this week that they would have an “extremely low tolerance” of those seeking to “undermine” the day.
A significant police operation is under way in central London.
We have made a number of arrests in the area of Carlton House Terrace.
The individuals have been held on suspicion of breaching the peace.
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) May 6, 2023
Under the new Public Order Act, protesters who have an object with the intention of using it to “lock on” are liable to a fine, with those who block roads facing up to 12 months in prison.
Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, condemned the arrests. “The reports of people being arrested for peacefully protesting the coronation are incredibly alarming. This is something you would expect to see in Moscow, not London. Peaceful protests allow individuals to hold those in power to account, something the UK government seems increasingly averse to.”
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said the human rights group had been concerned about Met statements about its “low tolerance” of protests. He said: “We need to see what details emerge around these incidents but merely being in possession of a megaphone or carrying placards should never be grounds for a police arrest.
Just Stop Oil said that about 13 of their protesters had been arrested on the Mall. A spokesperson for the campaign group said five demonstrators were also arrested at Downing Street and one on Piccadilly.
In one exchange caught on camera, the Just Stop Oil campaigner Ben Larsen, 25, told officers: “You’ve searched me and haven’t found shit.”
A police officer responded: “You need to educate yourself on what peaceful protest is.”
Separately, Animal Rising said a number of their supporters were arrested on Saturday morning while at a training session “miles away from the coronation”. Nathan McGovern, a spokesperson for the campaign group, said: “This is nothing short of a totalitarian crackdown on free speech and all forms of dissent.
“Just Stop Oil, Republic and Animal Rising have experienced the true character of this government’s attitude towards peaceful protest today. We are sleepwalking into fascism and it is every single person’s responsibility to stand up and say ‘No more.’”
Smith’s arrest, at about 7.30am, had come as hundreds of anti-monarchist protesters were gathering at Trafalgar Square with large flags and wearing yellow T-shirts as they looked to catch both the eye of the world’s media and that of a king on his coronation day.
By Daniel Boffey, The Guardian. Editing Shasi Kumar
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