Graham Smith, the leader of Republic, was arrested prior to the coronation and held for 16 hours
UPDATE: 8 May: Police express ‘regret’ at the arrest of Graham Smith. No charges will be brought under the new Public Order Act against any of those arrested. The only charges brought are for drugs related offences. Questions remain concerning why the arrests were made in the first place and what, if any, pressure had been put on the police to make them.
We have been warning for some time in previous posts – along with other organisations – that the desire by the present government and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, to limit the ability of individuals and organisations to protest by passing a series of laws to limit such activity and to give the police yet more powers to carry them out. The new Public Order Act was rushed into law and signed by King Charles just days before his coronation took place.
Using the act (it seems), Graham Smith the leader of Republic, an organisation which believes we should be run as a democracy and not have an inherited royal family at the head of the country, was arrested before the coronation took place. It is unclear on what the grounds the arrest was made and he was released after 16 hours. He was not the only one to be arrested and others included volunteers from Night Stars which prompted Westminster Council to say it was ‘deeply concerned’ by their arrest.
The new legislation arose because of the activities of the climate protestors who used a variety of methods to disrupt the capital including gluing themselves to pavements. Their protests did seem to shine a light on the poor performance by the government to tackle the climate emergency. They were not popular however and the disruption caused to commuters and others led the government to pass a range of laws to limit the ability to protest. The Home Secretary famously said in parliament that such people were “Guardian-reading, tofu eating, dare I say the anti-growth coalition”.
There is a tension when it comes to protesting. There are many who are in support of peaceful protests but are angry about those which are disruptive in some way or even where there is some violence. The problem with peaceful protests is that they are almost always ignored. It is the more violent type which become news and where the cause is thereby recognised. There were many decades of peaceful protests for women to have the vote for example which yielded nothing. Once more violent methods were employed by the suffragettes, change eventually occurred although there were other factors at play.
The Salisbury Amnesty group neither supports nor condemns the campaign for the country to be a Republic. The issue at stake is the right to campaign on the matter. There is no specific right of protest. We do have the right to free speech and we do have a right of assembly under articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention. Giving the police yet more powers to arrest on the pretext that the person might be disruptive is a worrying development. Another worrying development is the alleged use of facial recognition during the coronation. This technology has been widely used by repressive regimes such as China where the ability of people to move almost anywhere is tracked by the police.
Sources: Evening Standard, CNN, The Times, Amnesty International, and yes, the Guardian