Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images
“Not my king.”
“He is and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
This swap between two Twitter commentators sums up current friction in the UK, where King Charles III’s accession to the throne has sparked anti-royalist protests.
Dramatically, the dynamic plays out in real life: Police have made a series of arrests of people protesting against the monarchy in recent days, raising questions about the right to free speech as the United Kingdom proclaims a new head of state to replace the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Police Scotland allege breaches of peace
In widely seen photos, a woman holding a sign reading ‘Abolish the Monarchy’ and ‘F*** Imperialism’ was arrested at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday, where the Queen’s body is due to rest until ‘see you on Tuesday.
“Let her go! It’s freedom of speech!” shouted one man, according to The Scotsman newspaper. Others shouted back, “Have some respect.”
The 22-year-old woman was arrested “in connection with a breach of the peace”, a spokesperson for Police Scotland told NPR, adding that she had been formally charged and released, and that her case is currently pending in Edinburgh Sheriff’s Court.
Similar reports emerged on Monday, including a case involving a man who was seen being forcibly removed from a parade barrier after shouting at the royal procession leading to the cathedral. He would have heckled Prince Andrew.
And in London, a woman was led away by four uniformed officers on Monday after she held up a sign reading ‘Not my king’ – which became a trending hashtag — near Westminster Hall.
Protester says he didn’t disrespect the late Queen
The highest-profile case comes from Oxford, where author and activist Symon Hill says he was arrested for protesting Charles’ ascension, in what he called “an outrageous assault on democracy”.
Hill said he only opposed Charles being proclaimed king and did nothing to disrespect Elizabeth or upset those who mourned her.
“It wasn’t until they declared Charles to be ‘King Charles III’ that I shouted ‘Who elected him? ‘” Hill said as she recounted her experience. “I doubt most people in the crowd even heard me. A couple of people near me told me to shut up.”
The UK passed new protest laws this year
Hill said police initially told him he was arrested under the UK’s recently toughened protest laws, a change that came after advocacy groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter staged protests. significant and/or disruptive protests in recent years.
The new law allows police to act in cases they consider to be “unduly loud demonstrations that may significantly impact others” or seriously disrupt an organization’s business.
Pool WPA/Getty Images
The arrests highlight individuals’ problems with authorities – but large groups have also chosen or been forced to change their plans due to Elizabeth’s death.
Extinction Rebellion had been planning for months to hold a big protest in London this past weekend, dubbed the Resistance Festival. But after the Queen’s death, the group postponed their plan, saying ‘occupying a royal park at this time would not be practical’.
Groups such as Republic – in the UK, being a republican means supporting an end to the monarchy – amplify calls for change, sharing comments from people who compare the crackdown on protests in the UK to the actions of authoritarian regimes.
Republic said on Monday it was contacting the police department to inquire about the rules for protesters, adding that it intends to hold protests around Charles’ coronation “and expects those protests be allowed to proceed peacefully”.
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