‘Not my King’: Anti-monarchy protesters face police crackdown in UK



London
CNN

While thousands of people have taken to the streets of the United Kingdom to remember Queen Elizabeth II since her death last week, critics of the monarchy have taken the opportunity to protest, holding signs such as “not my king”, a reference to the new. King Charles III. Police have intervened and in some cases arrested protesters, raising serious questions about how some forces are dealing with dissent in the country.

Liberty, a civil rights advocacy group, expressed its concern, saying in a statement: “It is deeply troubling to see the police exercising their broad powers to curtail freedom of speech and expression in such a heavy-handed and punitive manner.”

CNN spoke to some of those who faced police action this week after publicly criticizing the royal family.

Symon Hill, from Oxford, was walking home from church at 12.30pm on Sunday, the 45-year-old told CNN that the roads in the city center were closed for a procession, which made it difficult for him. go through the crowd Realizing that his accession to King Charles III was about to be proclaimed by local officials, Hill decided to listen rather than push him to return home.

“They started reading about Elizabeth II and expressing grief over her death,” Hill said. “I certainly wouldn’t interrupt that. I have never entered into an act of mourning. That’s not something I would ever do.’

But when King Charles was declared to be “our only lawful and lawful Lord of Liege,” Hill said, “Who chose him?”

“Only people really close could hear it. A couple told me to shut up. I replied that they are imposing a Head of State without our consent”, something that he “suffered hard”.

Hill said she was “shocked” by what happened next, describing how the security guards pushed her back. “Then the police intervened, grabbed me, handcuffed me and put me in the back of a police van,” he said. “Probably no more than five minutes of ‘who picked?’ since I called.”

Hill said that once he was in the police van, he repeatedly asked the officers under which law he was arrested. “They didn’t seem very confident, which is quite worrying. Arbitrary detention is certainly not something we should have in a democratic society.”

Hill said he was given conflicting reasons for the arrest, as police weren’t sure whether to arrest him or not.

“After the police talked a lot with each other and with their superiors over the radios, the policeman in the van that was with me told me that they would arrest me and take me home, but that they would contact me and ask me to give them up. an interview later. He said I could still blame him for something. Even at this moment they did not answer my questions about the law under which I was arrested”.

An anti-monarchy protester approaches the media outside the Houses of Parliament on Monday.

Hill said he was arrested by police on his way home under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, controversial and expanding legislation introduced this year. Police powers to suppress protests.

However, Thames Valley Police said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday that Hill had been arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which covers offenses causing “harassment, alarm or distress”.

The confusion reflects the uncertainty surrounding the right to free speech in the UK, after the 2022 Act “extended[ed] The range of situations in which the police can set conditions during a protest.’ Clause 78 of the new law makes it an offense to “intentionally or recklessly interfere” with protesters.[e] public nuisance’ – including causing ‘serious nuisance’.

Speaking to CNN, Steve Peers, a professor of EU and human rights law at the University of Essex, outlined how far-reaching these new police powers could be. “All you have to do is find one person – and that wouldn’t be difficult in a crowd who was most saluting the Queen – to be insulted by someone who is there to protest the entire monarchy.”

“You might as well say that anyone who puts up a sign that says ‘We love the Monarchy’ is seriously annoying someone who doesn’t like the Monarch. Where does it end?”

London lawyer Paul Powlesland was at work on Monday when he saw media reports of protesters being arrested for expressing anti-monarchy views. “In these moments when the consensus is so uniform, that’s when freedom of expression is at greatest risk. I thought it was important to go down and make a point about freedom of speech,” he told CNN.

Like Hill, Powlesland said he did not want to interrupt the mourning royal’s remarks. He did not travel to Buckingham Palace, where people were paying tribute to the Queen. Instead, he went to Parliament Square, London’s usual site of political protest, opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Powlesland was alone and held up a blank piece of paper. After a few minutes, “a policeman came and asked for my details. He said that if I wrote ‘Not my king’ on it, I would probably be arrested because it is offensive under the Public Order Act.”

Protesters gathered outside the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, many carrying empty signs.

“I couldn’t risk writing anything on it because I couldn’t be arrested because I had to represent my client in court the next morning. That is the decisive point: the threat of arrest also has a very terrible effect on freedom of expression and the right to protest”.

Powlesland posted a video of his interaction with the officer on Twitterwhich has since been viewed over 1.4 million times.

CNN asked the Metropolitan Police to confirm the position of those who express their views against the monarchy. The Met responded: “People have a right to free speech and we have to balance the rights of protesters with those of others who want to be displeased and respected.”

Meanwhile, in an isolated incident in the Scottish capital on Monday, a 22-year-old man was arrested “in connection with a breach of the peace on the Royal Mile,” Britain’s PA Media news agency reported.

Thousands of mourners lined the streets of Edinburgh as the Queen’s cortege, accompanied by members of the royal family, made its way from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles Cathedral. Police Scotland said a member of the public broke the silence by complaining to Prince Andrew, calling him a “sick old man”.

Whether the police are using powers under the Public Order Act 1986 or the recently introduced Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, there are free speech concerns.

Liberty said in a statement to CNN: “The Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act has made it much more difficult for people to stand up for what they believe in without facing the risk of criminalisation… As we have seen this week, this is a stifling of our freedom of protest, and a dangerous precedent for the future. establishing”.