British Public Order Act Leads To Arrests At King Charles’ Coronation

The leader of a British anti-monarchy group has been arrested at King Charles’ coronation. Republic, one of the United Kingdom’s leading anti-monarchy groups, had been planning their coronation protests for months, but the group’s C.E.O., Graham Smith, was detained before the ceremony even began. The Metropolitan Police arrested Smith on the morning of May 6th as he was unloading placards and straps from a vehicle with other members of Republic, claiming that Smith had shown an intent to use the now-illegal protest tactic called a lock-on (where protestors secure themselves to a physical object to prevent their own removal from a demonstration).

According to C.N.N., Smith was among 64 people, and six members of Republic, arrested by the Met Police that day, in the first trial run of the new Public Order Act, allowing police to detain anyone they see as “potentially disruptive.” Republic members who were not detained continued to peacefully protest at the event, the Washington Post says, chanting “Not my King” and “Down with the Crown.”

In retaliation for his arrest, Smith stated that he may pursue legal action, telling the Guardian that he believes the arrests were premeditated. Republic had been in contact with the Met Police for 6 months prior and said the police department was aware of their planned protests. “I have no doubt about that at all,” Smith said.

The police announced their “regret” that those arrested were unable to join the rest of the protestors, claiming, according to Reuters, that their newly-mandated job to prevent disruption “outweighed the right to protest.”

This is the fear of the Public Order Act’s detractors, who claim the new act denies basic human rights – including the freedom to protest. By denying free speech and the right to assemble, the Public Order Act limits Britons’ ability to fight against injustice and advocate for institutional change. Smith’s arrest, which U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch Yasmine Ahmed called “disgraceful,” presages the theft of a human right that should be a part of all democracies. “These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia, not the U.K.,” Ahmed tweeted.

King Charles’ coronation on May 6th is both London’s biggest and most controversial ceremonial event in more than 70 years. Contention over the continuing presence of the British monarchy reawakened after Queen Elizabeth’s death in 2022; while supporters claim the royal family is a symbol of national pride and unity, anti-monarchists call for its abolishment due to the Crown’s history of colonialism, scandals, and unjust privileges. According to Al Jazeera, support for the Crown is slowly declining – especially among younger generations – and the transitional period as Charles takes the throne is a powerful leverage point for anti-monarchists advocating for its eradication.

Republic and other anti-monarchists hope that King Charles will be the last British monarch, and preventing these people from peacefully expressing their grievances by outlawing nonviolent protests only heightens tensions and leads to more controversy. If the new Public Order Act continues to be enforced as it was on May 6th, it could force dissenters to resort to riskier methods in order to be heard, becoming an even more dangerous threat to British human rights.

It is essential to keep a watchful eye over changes that may threaten democracy and human rights, but for now, it seems the Met Police’s actions may have backfired. Another arrested protester, Kevin John, told Al Jazeera that he believes the anti-monarchy movement has received more publicity thanks to news of the arrests spreading around the world. In the meantime, we must uphold the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, for supporters and opposers of the monarchy alike.