Just Stop Oil (JSO) activists interrupted a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on Wednesday morning. The MPs’ committee was investigating arrests by Met police over the coronation weekend.
Parliamentary security threw the five protesters out of the hearing. JSO says they were part of the 19 from its group who were arrested during the coronation. Meanwhile, on Wednesday cops arrested eight JSO protesters outside parliament for taking part in a “slow march”.
Overall cops made 64 arrests during operation Golden Orb that took place while King Charles III was crowned. The Tories rushed through the Public Order Act earlier that week to clamp down on dissent and disruption.
This included six anti-monarchist activists who were held for 16 hours, and three women’s safety volunteers. They were arrested on Friday, the night before the coronation, and released at 4pm on coronation day.
The new legislation hands protesters who obstruct railways and motorways 12 months in jail. And “locking on” can lead to six months locked up. It also bans “serious disruption” and gives police power to search people for super-glue and padlocks without suspicion.
In the committee hearing, JSO activist Dr Kush Naker started to read a prepared statement. “We, as supporters of Just Stop Oil, are here today because our democracy is under threat”—is all he managed to say.
Another JSO supporter said, “We should not have been arrested for wearing T-shirts,” as she was forcibly removed.
JSO says MPs collected evidence from the police, anti-monarchist group Republic and human rights lawyers. But “no invite” was extended to JSO to take part in the hearing. “This is a continuation of the silencing of legitimate dissent we saw at the coronation,” the group said on Wednesday.
It added that the arrests at the coronation were “clearly politically motivated and represents a massive overreach by the police.”
At the committee hearing, chair Diana Johnson asked the assistant commissioner for Met Police Operations Matt Twist whether the police were under political pressure to make arrests. “No,” he replied, adding that police implement laws “without fear or favour”.
“From my point of view I felt no pressure politically,” he said. “The stakes were enormously high so I absolutely felt pressure to deliver a safe and secure operation, but that wasn’t political pressure.”
But Twist added that the coronation was “a historic moment” that the Met was “proud” to have delivered.
The Met was careful not to outright ban protests from taking place. Instead, it arrested activists and held them for hours without explanation.
Out of the arrests 52 were linked to “direct action protest”. Cops also arrested people in hi-vis jackets who looked like they could be stewards. This included anti-royalist protesters who, officers say, had 12 heavy-duty straps with combination locks. Republic said they were for securing placards.
Cops arrested Graham Smith, Republic’s leader, before he even arrived at the coronation protest. He said the straps weren’t “physically capable” of locking people on. Police also took amplifiers, megaphones and threatened to arrest people for using sound equipment.
Smith added that the activists were detained before officers found the luggage straps in the van. He said the police’s arrests had “all the hallmarks” of being preordained.
Suzie Melvin, a volunteer with Night Stars, was arrested in Soho Square. The group helps people on a night out with sick bags and flip-flops.
She told the committee that on the night before the coronation police searched their bags. Tory MP Marco Longhi asked Melvin if she thought her arrest was a mistake or malicious.
Melvin replied that, when she was arrested, cops told her they were specifically looking for the Night Stars volunteers. Longhi asked if it could be because they were giving out rape alarms—“which can cause a sudden occurrence to happen amongst the horses that were parading.”
“None of us has ever handed out a rape alarm,” says Melvin. “I am not sure why we were arrested and detained.” It was thought that cops arrested volunteers for carrying alarms that could be used to disrupt the coronation procession.
The ramping up of protest-smashing powers shows an intensification of repression from the Tories and state. But as JSO shows, the best way to resist is to keep on protesting.
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