Police have been criticised over the “incredibly alarming” arrests of anti-monarchy protesters during demonstrations against King Charles's coronation ceremony.
Hundreds of anti-royalists were confronted by police – and some prevented from entering Trafalgar Square – as a volley of arrests of both republicans and Just Stop Oil protesters were made, sparking concern over the 'low threshold' adopted by the Met Police.
Protesters had joined royal supporters waiting for the coronation procession to pass, brandishing placards, with the groups offering rival chants to one another.
Human Rights Watch's UK director Yasmine Ahmed said in a statement: "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.”
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell told Yahoo: "The police broke their promise that peaceful anti-monarchy protests would be permitted.
"They arrested the head of Republic and other protesters, confiscated Republic’s official placards, photographed everyone and erected a huge watchtower in front of the Republic protest so the king would not see us.
"It’s an outrageous abuse of police powers and an attack of freedom of expression. This just reconfirms that the police cannot be trusted."
However, not everyone was against police taking action against protesters. Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson tweeted: "Not My King? If you do not wish to live in a country that has a monarchy the solution is not to turn up with your silly boards. The solution is to emigrate."
Not My King?
If you do not wish to live in a country that has a monarchy the solution is not to turn up with your silly boards.
The solution is to emigrate.https://t.co/G7CIU55YO6
— Lee Anderson MP (@LeeAndersonMP_) May 6, 2023
'Breaching the peace'
Scotland Yard said several people had been arrested on suspicion of offences including breaching the peace and conspiracy to cause public nuisance close to the coronation.
In a statement on Twitter, the force said: "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 later today."
The arrests come after the force announced it would have an "extremely low threshold" for protests during the coronation celebrations, and that demonstrators could expect "swift action".
Its policing operation was set to see 11,500 police officers on duty on Saturday.
Watch: Protesters chant 'Not My King' ahead of coronation
In Trafalgar Square, chants of “Not my king” from a group of anti-monarchists were met by boos and opposing chants of “God save the King”.
Protesters stood shoulder to shoulder with royal supporters – the former dressed in yellow waving placards with slogans including “king parasite” and “abolish the monarchy”, while the latter were bedecked in Union flags.
One placard read: "God save Virginia Giuffre", a reference to the alleged sexual abuse case involving Prince Andrew, who settled a case with Giuffre in February last year.
Footage posted on Twitter seemed to show demonstrators in yellow "Not My King" t-shirts being arrested by police.
In one video, an officer says: "I’m not going to get into a conversation about that – they are under arrest, end of."
Another video shared on Twitter suggested appeared to show Republican protesters near Trafalgar Square being told by a Met Police officer that they may be arrested for public nuisance for chanting “Not My King”.
On The Mall, where people had camped out ahead of the coronation, royal fans clashed with Just Stop Oil protesters.
Onlookers sang the national anthem as the demonstrators shouted messages about climate change and the right to protest.
Some people approached protesters who were wearing handcuffs and told them to “shut up”. Other onlookers heckled the group and laughed at them.
On Saturday morning, Republic tweeted: "This morning, @GrahamSmith_ and 5 members of our team were arrested. Hundreds of placards were seized. Is this democracy? #NotMyKing #Coronation."
Tweets from the Alliance of European Republican Movements appear to show the CEO of Republic, Graham Smith, having his details being taken and being arrested as part of the police activity.
The arrests of protesters sparked concern over the police's powers.
Under the controversial 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 12 months in prison.
Republic activist Luke Whiting, 26, told the PA news agency: "Six Republic members have been arrested including the CEO as the demonstration was starting at the edge of Trafalgar Square.
"It is unclear exactly whether the police are using these new powers and whether they are misusing them to stop protest happening."
One woman in a Republic T-shirt who was arrested told PA: "We had a delivery of placards ready for the protest and then the tactical support unit questioned us as to how we we had got through the road closures.
"They questioned whether what we were doing was a delivery. They then said they found evidence of means of locking on, of items that could be used to lock on, and they arrested us."
Officers carried her away from where she had been standing outside a branch of Tesco. Two men who appeared to be part of the same demonstration were carried away by officers into a marked police van.
A large police presence could be see as protesters wearing Just Stop Oil T-shirts were held against railings on The Mall.
A Just Stop Oil spokeswoman said the group’s plan was “only to display T-shirts and flags”, adding: "This is a dystopian nightmare."
One Just Stop Oil protester was carried out of the crowd and searched by police on Whitehall.
Ben Larsen, 25, wearing a Just Stop Oil T-shirt, said he was there to see the coronation and peacefully protest.
He said: "I wanted to see the coronation and peacefully protest on the sidelines, in a respectful manner.
"All we had was a Just Stop Oil t-shirt and an orange flag and that’s enough to be detained by the police and searched."
He claimed police found him using AI facial recognition cameras that were being trialled at the coronation.
Republican protesters near Trafalgar Square being told by a Met Police officer that they may be arrested for public nuisance for chanting “Not My King” pic.twitter.com/8pG90ns9dG
— Paul Powlesland (@paulpowlesland) May 6, 2023
Larsen said: “We saw a line of police in front, turned around, saw a line of police behind, they dragged me away, even though I said I didn’t want to go with them.
“They searched me, they found nothing on me.”
He added: “I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m being detained as long as it takes.”
Another protester, Symon Hill, 46, who was previously arrested for shouting “who elected him?” during a proclamation ceremony for the King but had charges dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, said he hoped he would not be arrested again.
He said: “I am joining a peaceful, lawful protest and I am worried there will be more arrests on spurious grounds.
"I am nervous but determined to keep on protesting peacefully against monarchy and arbitrary policing.
"The arrests this morning are appalling but I am not surprised.”
Arrests of King's coronation protesters branded 'alarming'
Amnesty International UK’s chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said the group had been concerned about Met statements about its "low tolerance" of protests ahead of the coronation arrests.
In a statement, 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.
"Peaceful protest is clearly protected under international human rights law and it’s been worrying to see the police this week making numerous statements about their ‘low tolerance’ for disruption at the coronation.
Police arrest peaceful anti-monarchy protesters & have erected giant barriers to osbcure pro-republic banners. Right to freely protest suppressed. Shame! pic.twitter.com/oqTU1op0eX
— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) May 6, 2023
"We’ve recently had the introduction of extremely draconian legislation outlawing ‘disruptive’ or ‘noisy’ protests, which has given the police excessive – and highly subjective – powers and seriously damaged people’s right of free speech and public assembly.
"The coronation shouldn’t become yet another excuse for undermining people’s basic human rights in this country and we’re awaiting more details over these concerning reports of arrests."