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13 Sep, 2022 14:44

Free speech campaigners defend anti-monarchy protests

A demonstrator heckled Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession in Edinburgh
Free speech campaigners defend anti-monarchy protests

British free speech activists have condemned police for arresting several hecklers who disrupted events related to the death of Queen Elizabeth II and accession of King Charles III across the UK. Among those targeted were the disgraced Prince Andrew, who was recently embroiled in a sex abuse scandal.

Police in Oxford arrested, but then “de-arrested” a man on Sunday, after he shouted “Who elected him?” during a proclamation ceremony for the new King. The man was taken away in a police van and, although he was subsequently released, Thames Valley Police said he is still “engaging with us voluntarily as we investigate a public order offense,” the BBC reported.

In the Scottish city of Edinburgh, a young man and woman were arrested and charged with breaching the peace in two separate incidents on Sunday and Monday. Videos shared on social media showed the man calling Prince Andrew “a sick old man” as the Duke of York walked behind the Queen’s hearse in a funeral procession.

The man was shoved away by angry mourners before being arrested. Speaking to reporters afterwards, he said that “powerful men shouldn’t be allowed to commit sexual crimes and get away with it.”

An associate of deceased American pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew settled a civil lawsuit in February in which he was accused of sexually abusing a minor. The Duke of York had earlier been stripped of his royal patronages and honorary military titles after a disastrous BBC interview in 2020 in which he denied ever meeting his alleged victim, whom he had been photographed with.

In London, a barrister was told by police on Monday that he would potentially face arrest for “offending people” if he wrote “Not my King” on a placard of paper. Speaking to ITV on Tuesday, the barrister said that “we need to allow people to protest peacefully the political accession of a monarch.”

Ruth Smeeth, chief executive of Index on Censorship, described these incidents as “deeply concerning,” telling the BBC that “we must guard against this event being used, by accident or design, to erode in any way the freedom of expression that citizens of this country enjoy.”

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,” Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo added.

After spending the night at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, the Queen’s coffin will be flown to London on Tuesday, and Elizabeth will be laid to rest at Windsor Castle after a state funeral next Monday.