Rassegna Esteri

Heavy handed British crackdown against royal dissent

Tehran Times – The disturbing images of peaceful protesters across the United Kingdom being arrested by police for simply criticizing the British monarchy is yet another reminder of how the UK is not a democratic society and freedom of speech is not respected in the country as its leaders claim.

The irony is that many people are being denied the right to speak out against an unelected and undemocratic institution, which represents the face of atrocities and war crimes practiced around the world during Britain’s dark colonial past.

The heavy-handed crackdown has seen police in Parliament Square threaten a barrister from east London with arrest if he wrote “not my King” on the blank piece of paper that he was holding. 

In Oxford a man was arrested after shouting during an accession proclamation event of King Charles: “Who elected him?”

In Edinburgh, a 22-year-old man was violently dragged to the ground and arrested by police officers after calling Prince Andrew “disgusting” – in reference to the prince’s friendship with the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and allegations of rape made against him by a minor – has been charged by police.

Another person arrested was a 22-year-old woman carrying a sign calling for the abolition of the monarchy. 

Free speech and protest are fined in the UK so long as you follow the rules about what you are allowed to publicly speak and protest about. 

Joanna Cherry, an MP with the Scottish National party, said on social media “I’m concerned by reports in Scotland & England of seemingly legitimate protesters being arrested.”

Anti-monarchy campaigners say the intimidating police approach has been backed by a 24-hour media campaign with royal family propaganda.

The police now have new powers under the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which allows the police to arrest lone protesters if the officers think their actions are a disruption. The criteria is very broad and in essence means anyone staging a protest now faces the risk of arrest.

Campaigners say there appear to be some fear among authorities that the public anger over King Charles’s accession to the crown will grow if dissent is allowed during the funeral services of Queen Elizabeth, who died last Thursday at the age of 96.

The arrest campaign has prompted a backlash from rights groups, republican movements and politicians. 

“If people are being arrested simply for holding protest placards then it is an affront to democracy and highly likely to be unlawful,” Big Brother Watch said in a statement.

“Police officers have a duty to protect people’s right to protest as much as they have a duty to facilitate people’s right to express support, sorrow, or pay their respects.”

Jodie Beck, from the Liberty campaign group, said the right to protest was “a vital part of a healthy and functioning democracy.”

“It is very worrying to see the police enforcing their broad powers in such a heavy-handed and punitive way to clamp down on free speech and expression,” she said in a statement.

Graham Smith with the campaign group Republic said “we condemn these arrests in the strongest possible terms. Free speech is fundamental to any democracy. At a time when the media is saturated with fawning over a king appointed without discussion or consent, it is even more important.”

“We will be writing to police forces around the country, raising these concerns. We intend to organize protests at the coronation and will expect those protests to be allowed to go ahead peacefully.”

He adds that “despite wall-to-wall coverage by broadcasters, in which the monarchy has been debated without republican voices being heard, republicans are being galvanized by the accession of Charles to the throne.”

“With support for the monarchy already falling – and support for abolition now over 25% – we expect this movement to grow rapidly over the next few years.”

The police arrests seem to have energized the anti-monarchy sentiment as different groups say they will be staging fresh protests in the lead up to Elizabeth’s state funeral next Monday and King Charles’s accession events. In response to the crackdown on non-violent protests, blank banners or white pieces of paper have been seen in new protests as concerns are mounting about the behavior of police.

Climate Camp Scotland, which protests against fossil fuels and for climate justice, said a protest on Tuesday was held because of the people who had been arrested in Scotland for simply holding a placard.

They said supporters of the group “quietly held up blank banners and placards in solidarity with people arrested in Edinburgh and elsewhere in the UK for protesting the monarchy.”

The anti-imperialism group Global Majority VS, which is supporting one of the arrested protesters in Scotland, accused police of criminalizing freedom of speech, saying there was a “concerted effort to silence the voices of the masses”.

In a statement via the anti-imperialism group, a Mexican native who is a student in Edinburgh said: “on the morning of the 11th of September 2022, I was wrongfully arrested while exercising my right to protest at the Proclamation of King Charles III in Edinburgh. Silently holding a sign … I condemn the centuries of colonial injustice, genocide and unlawful extraction that have been and continue to be carried out in the name of the British Crown.

“As a Mexican person living in the UK, I strongly opposed the continuous resource extraction and exploitation of racialized bodies in the global south that has been made possible through systems of imperial oppression.  However, I do not act alone.

“The arrest and subsequent charging are a symptom of the ongoing movement to criminalize true freedom of speech and all human and people’s rights.

“This is a struggle of all colonized peoples against the ruling classes’ ongoing colonization of our lands, resources.

Furthermore, the group argues that “calling for the abolition of the monarch is as old as the monarchy itself and a cornerstone of freedom of speech in the UK. This establishment is committed to repress our true people’s power to call out the ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by the Crown and the establishment.”

Many more have voiced their criticism on social media posting material objecting the role of the monarchy on the basis of Britain’s disgraceful colonial past. 

A lot of media focus has been put on the Nigerian linguistics professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S., who used strong language in reaction to the queen’s death. 

The Western media uproar is quite interesting as the post refers to Elizabeth overseeing the colonial oppression of the professor’s country Nigeria and the colonial power’s instigation of the civil war over there, which resulted in the murder of many of the professor’s own family members.

While her post was quickly brought down, there does appear to be double standards in how people are allowed to discuss other violence and violence perpetrated or oversaw by Britain that is represented by the royal family.

Many have pointed out that the queen never used her role to speak out against violence committed during Britain’s colonial rule in Africa, Asia and elsewhere during her 70-year reign.

So much time and energy were used on how the professor’s post was in bad taste, that no media outlet or analysts have discussed why so much anger was used to make such remarks and how verifiable the actual accusations against the British monarchy are.

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