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An anti-monarchy protester in London
Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty

Why are loads of anti-monarchy protesters being arrested?

People have been apprehended for merely holding up ‘offensive’ placards

Written by
Faima Bakar

Despite the huge outpouring of grief we’ve seen over the past week, it’s fair to say not everyone was a fan of the Queen. While most responses to Elizabeth II’s death have been well meaning and positive, some people have pointed out the royal family’s ties to colonialism and imperialism. Others, meanwhile, take issue with controversial figures like Prince Andrew.

Since the death of Her Majesty, these feelings are coming to the forefront as protesters head to national landmarks with placards sharing their views of the monarchy. Some people have even been arrested for their actions.

Why are anti-monarchy protestors being arrested?

Symon Hill, a man in Oxford, was apprehended when he shouted ‘who elected him?’ as he walked past a ceremony celebrating the new King. He has since been released. 

In Edinburgh, two people were arrested and charged after one held a sign reading ‘F*** imperialism, abolish monarchy’. Another was arrested after heckling Prince Andrew while he walked behind a hearse carrying the queen. They were charged due to a ‘breach of peace’.

Under Scottish law, you can be arrested for ‘disorderly conduct’ that can cause harm or disturbance, or involve threatening or abusive behaviour.

What is the Public Order Act 1986?

Anti-monarchy protestors might also be arrested under the Public Order Act 1986, bought in by Margaret Thatcher’s government. This aimed to maintain public order by criminalising actions that can be considered a riot (where at least 12 people are involved), violent disorder, affray (fighting in public), threatening behaviour or disorderly conduct.

Under section 5, ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ are a statutory offence in England and Wales. So anyone who ‘uses threatening [or abusive] words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour and displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening’ can be found guilty of an offence. 

What’s this got to do with the new Policing Act?

These arrests might also be to do with the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which makes it easier for the police and criminal justice system to crack down on ‘unacceptable’ protests. The new law was controversial and resulted in massive protests (ironic, huh?)

What is the ‘not my king’ movement?

Hill, who was arrested for the ‘not my king’ comment, posted a tweet of the term, which 42,000 people have since linked. Many others have now started using the phrase (a variation on the ‘not my president’ tag that came after the appointment of ex-US president Donald Trump) to express their discontent at not having an elected head of state.

Can anti-monarchy placards get you arrested after the Queen’s death?

While many argue that expressing anti-monarchy sentiments should be protected under free speech, the police are using the Public Order Act to arrest some people who do so. One barrister who protested with a blank piece of paper spoke to a police officer who confirmed that had his sign contained the words ‘not my king’, he would have been arrested. 

What does this have to do with the free speech debate?

Under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998, ‘everyone has the right to freedom of expression’ in the UK. But the law stipulates that this freedom ‘may be subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society’. Many who are being punished for expressing their opinions on the monarchy feel it’s an impingement of their rights to free speech.

Read more: here’s everything you need to know about the Queen’s funeral.

Plus: here’s how to see the Queen’s body lying in state in London.

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