No one should ever be arrested for what they think or say. It is remarkable – and depressing – that this still needs to be said in the 21st century. But it seems it does.
Over the weekend we witnessed an alarming, almost medieval act of censorship. A woman was dragged away by cops for holding up a sign that said “Abolish the monarchy”. It was an intolerable assault on freedom of speech.
The woman in question was standing outside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, which was awaiting the arrival of the Queen’s coffin. Mournful crowds had gathered. But this woman wasn’t in the mood for mourning. She was in the mood for politics. Her sign, in full, said: “Fuck imperialism. Abolish the monarchy.”
“Officers appeared behind her,” says one news report, and “took her away”. They arrested her. Remind me what century this is? Someone being hauled off by the law for expressing anti-monarchist sentiments – it’s like something out of the 1500s.
Now, we can agree that the sorrowful occasion of the late monarch’s arrival at St Giles’ Cathedral is not the right time or place to make political statements. It is infantile, and certainly uncaring, to hold up an expletive-laden placard bashing the monarchy in a crowd of mourners for the monarch. It’s a lefty version of what those loons in the Westboro Baptist Church do. They, too, hijack funereal events to make their showy statements.
But so what? We either have freedom of speech – that is, the right to express ourselves in the public realm – or we do not.
What’s more, the woman held up her sign a few moments before the public proclamation of Charles III as the new king. If people are not allowed to quietly, if offensively, protest against the proclamation of a king, then clearly our country is not as free as we thought. Declaring a king is a political, constitutional act – citizens ought to have every right to dissent at such an event.
There appear to have been other acts of anti-republican censorship over the past 24 hours. A man in Oxford says he was arrested after shouting out “Who elected him?” as that city marked the accession of Charles III. He seems to have been arrested under the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. That act has “significantly reduced free expression and harmed democracy”, the man told the Independent. He’s not wrong.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: Andrew Marr, Guido Fawkes and the Free Speech Union have all strongly condemned these attempts by the police to interfere with people’s right to protest, however distasteful the protest is. You can read the FSU’s statement about the recent arrests on Twitter.