Arrests of anti-property protesters in the UK have spurred the debate over free speech

LONDON – In a country notorious for disrespect, some worry that a new law of silence has taken hold.

Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II, police have arrested a handful of people in Britain for expressing – often frankly – anti-monarchy views.

A woman in Edinburgh holding a sign reading “P-imperialism, abolish the monarchy”, has been charged with the crime of violating the peace. A man faced the same charge after he harassed Prince Andrew while the Queen’s heart was traveling through the Scottish capital.

In Oxford, peace activist Simon Hill was handcuffed after he shouted his opposition during a formal proclamation of the new king.

Hill said he spontaneously called out, “Who elected him?” Because he opposes imposing a head of state on the country.

“I doubt most of the people in the crowd heard me,” he wrote on his blog. “Two or three people near me told me to shut up.”

Hill said officers put him in a police truck and told him he was being held for alleged behavior that might cause “harassment, alarm, or distress.” He was later released but still faces interrogation.

“The police abused their powers to arrest a person who expressed moderate opposition to the undemocratic appointment of a head of state,” he said.

In London, a woman was carried from the gates of Parliament holding a “Not mine” sign. Police said they were removed from the scene, where a police officer was stabbed to death by an Islamist attacker in 2017, to allow vehicles to enter and were not asked to leave the wider area.

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Lawyer Paul Paulsland said he was questioned by police outside Parliament on Monday while holding a blank piece of paper he was planning to write “Not mine.”

In the footage filmed by Powlesland, an officer is heard saying “He might offend someone” if he wrote the words.

Paulsland described police behavior as “outrageous”.

Civil rights organization Liberty said it was “deeply troubling to see police imposing their broad powers in a harsh and punitive manner to clamp down on freedom of expression and expression.”

Republic, a group that campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy, said it would file a complaint with the police “in the strongest possible terms”, and hold protests to mark the king’s coronation in the coming months.

“Freedom of speech is fundamental to any democracy,” said spokesman Graham Smith. “At a time when the media is saturated with flattery on the particular king without discussion or approval, it’s all the more important.”

The arrests come after the government passed a controversial law and order bill tightening police powers to curb disruptive protests. It is not clear if any of the arrests relate to the new law.

Prime Minister Liz Truss’ spokesman, Max Plann, said that while “this is a period of national mourning, and indeed grief, for the vast majority of the UK… the right to protest remains a fundamental principle”.

But he said, “It is up to the police to decide what is appropriate in individual circumstances.”

The Queen’s death launched one of the largest security operations in British history. About 500 royals, heads of state and heads of government from around the world are expected to attend the late king’s funeral on Monday. Before that, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to line up in a queue that snakes through central London to see the Queen reclining in state in Parliament’s Westminster Hall.

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Huge crowds have already gathered near Buckingham Palace and other royal residences to leave notes and flowers or simply to be part of a moment in history.

The Metropolitan Police in London said that “the vast majority of interactions between officers and the public at this time have been positive”.

“The public is fully entitled to protest and we have made this clear to all officers involved in the extraordinary policing operation that is currently underway,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Conde said.

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