London’s Metropolitan Police said they arrested 52 people on Saturday, most for offenses that appeared connected to the coronation of Charles III, including public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. In the afternoon, the police said that all those arrested remained in custody.
In advance of the coronation, the police had said that there would be little tolerance for disruptive protests and that they welcomed new legislation that came into force this week giving them more power to crack down on protests that cause “serious disruption.”
On Saturday, some protesters said that the arrests represented a breach of public freedoms.
“If that’s not infringing on protest rights then I don’t know what is,” said one protester reached by phone, Imogen McBeath.
Some protesters, organized by Republic, the leading anti-monarchy group in Britain, had arrived early on Saturday in Trafalgar Square and on the Mall in London to publicly voice objections to the coronation, an event they saw as an invaluable opportunity to highlight what they see as the absurdity of having a royal family in modern Britain.
Republic said that among those arrested were its leader, Graham Smith, and other members of its core team. The group maintained that it had communicated with the police ahead of the protest and that the arrests came as a surprise.
Hundreds of yellow banners reading, “Not my king,” were also seized at Trafalgar Square, Republic said.
At the square, Liorah Tchiprout, 30, who wore a T-shirt with an embroidered portrait of Charles labeled “first class parasite,” said that the arrests could diminish the number of people having the courage to demonstrate, at a time when there was a lot to protest about.
“Our rights to protest are being eroded,” she said. “That might scare people.”
Elsewhere in Britain, fellow anti-monarchy protesters called the arrests in London heavy-handed. “We disagreed with that,” said Emyr Gruffydd, who was at an anti-monarchy rally in Cardiff, Wales. “It’s healthy in a democracy to be able to express yourself.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the director of Human Rights Watch in Britain, condemned the arrests. “People are being arrested on the streets of London for peacefully protesting against the monarchy,” she wrote on Twitter, adding, “These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK. It’s disgraceful not dazzling!”
Despite the arrests, demonstrators at Trafalgar Square walked toward Hyde Park, holding signs that read, “Monarchy is moronic,” or “He is just some guy,” or “What if it was Andy,” in a reference to Charles’ disgraced brother, Prince Andrew.
They chanted “done with the monarchy” and “not my king,” but also “spend on health and education not on Charlie’s coronation.” They showed their middle finger to the jets during the flyover.
Actor Romy Elliot, 23, held a sign that read, “France gets more tourists,” a reference to a pro-monarchy argument that the British royal family helps Britain’s finances by being a tourist attraction.
The existence of the monarchy “just sends a message that if you are born lucky you get to a position of power,” she said. “It’s a dangerous message.”
Isabella Kwai contributed reporting from Wales.