Thousands gathered in central London on Saturday to celebrate the once-in-a-generation occasion. But it also drew demonstrators, with protesters wearing yellow T-shirts booing and shouting “Not My King” throughout the morning.
Republic, Britain’s largest anti-monarchy group, told CNN that police – without providing any reason – arrested organizers of the anti-monarchy protest.
At around 7 a.m. (2 a.m. ET) police stopped six of Republic’s organizers and told them they were detaining and searching them, Republic director Harry Stratton told CNN at the protest.
Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic, was among those detained, according to a video shared by the Alliance of European Republican Movements.
Stratton said that when the organizers asked police why they were being detained, they were told officers “would figure it out” after they had searched the anti-monarchy protesters. After searching them, police told the six organizers they were arresting them and seizing hundreds of their placards carrying the slogan “Not My King.”
“They didn’t say why they were arresting them. They didn’t tell them or us where they were taking them. It really is like something out of a police state,” Stratton said.
“I think people are quite perturbed by the police reaction. But the crowd reaction to us has been overwhelmingly friendly,” he added.
The group posted on Twitter Saturday, commenting: “So much for the right to peaceful protest.”
Members of environmental activist group Just Stop Oil also appeared to have been arrested on The Mall outside Buckingham Palace, the UK’s PA Media news agency reported, adding that a large group of the protesters were seen in handcuffs.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed several arrests had been made in central London and defended its actions.
“A total of 52 arrests have been made today for offenses including affray, public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. All of these people remain in custody,” the police said in a press release.
Met defends arrests
Commander Karen Findlay, who is leading the police operation, said in the release: “We absolutely understand public concern following the arrests we made this morning.
“Protest is lawful and it can be disruptive. We have policed numerous protests without intervention in the build-up to the coronation, and during it.
“Our duty is to do so in a proportionate manner in line with relevant legislation. We also have a duty to intervene when protest becomes criminal and may cause serious disruption.
“This depends on the context. The coronation is a once in a generation event and that is a key consideration in our assessment. A protest involving large numbers has gone ahead today with police knowledge and no intervention.”
Human Rights Watch, a non-profit campaign group, said earlier Saturday that the coronation arrests were “something you would expect to see in Moscow not London,” according to a statement obtained by PA Media.
Republic claimed it was expecting between 1,500 and 2,000 people to join the group at its protest in Trafalgar Square, just south of the royal procession route.
“Instead of a coronation we want an election. Instead of Charles we want a choice. It’s that simple,” the group tweeted on Saturday.
Growing police powers
The Metropolitan Police, the UK’s largest police force, has been scrutinized for its tough approach toward protests around the coronation.
“Our tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low,” the force wrote on Twitter this week. “We will deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration.”
Ahead of the event, the Met said that more than 11,500 police officers would be deployed in London on Saturday, making the coronation the largest one-day deployment in decades.
The operation – labeled Golden Orb – saw officers line the processional route, manage crowds and road closures, protect high-profile individuals and carry out searches with specialist teams.
There are also plans for facial recognition technology to be used in central London, which has sparked criticism from human rights groups.
“We all have the right to go about our lives without being watched and monitored, but everyone at the coronation is at risk of having their faces scanned by oppressive facial recognition technology,” Emmanuelle Andrews of human rights group Liberty, said on Twitter.
The operation comes amid growing concern over the increase in the police’s power to stifle dissent in Britain, following the recent introduction of controversial pieces of legislation.
Last year, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 significantly “broaden[ed] the range of circumstances in which police may impose conditions on a protest.” Under the new Act, it is an offense for protesters to “intentionally or recklessly caus[e] public nuisance” – including causing “serious annoyance.”
In a statement to CNN, Liberty said this Act “has made it much harder for people to stand up for what they believe without facing the risk of criminalization.”
On Tuesday, a new law called the Public Order Act received royal assent from King Charles, which is a formality and the final hurdle before a bill becomes law.
It will “give police the powers to prevent disruption at major sporting and cultural events taking place this summer in England and Wales,” the UK Home Office said in a statement.
Specific measures in the Act were introduced from Wednesday.
Under this law, long-standing protest tactics such as locking on – where protesters physically attach themselves to things like buildings – could lead to a six-month prison sentence or “unlimited fine,” said the Home Office.