Police have arrested 190 anti-lockdown protesters as hundreds of people marched through the streets of central London on the day tougher coronavirus (Covid-19) rules came into force in England. Officers also threatened members of the press who were covering the event, claiming they needed their permission to cover the protest.
Officers urged demonstrators to go home as they took to the streets near Trafalgar Square on the evening of 5 November, warning those who had gathered that they were breaching coronavirus restrictions.
Protesters, very few of whom were wearing face coverings, began to walk up The Strand soon after 6pm, chanting “freedom” and “no more lockdown”.
Trailed by a large number of officers from both the City of London and Metropolitan Police forces, protesters were repeatedly told to go home, with one officer shouting at a group:
You are breaking the law.
The Metropolitan Police said one of the 190 people arrested could be handed a £10,000 fine, which can be given to organisers of large gatherings. The other 189 are being investigated for breaching the new coronavirus regulations.
Breaches can be punished with a £200 fixed penalty notice, reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days, which doubles on every offence up to a maximum of £6,400.
The right to protest
Deputy assistant commissioner Matt Twist attempted to justify the number of arrests:
190 is a significant amount of arrests and we have a post-incident plan in place to ensure these investigations are progressed and the suspects are brought to justice. For anyone who plans to come out over the next four weeks, it is your responsibility to ensure we all comply with the current regulations.
But civil liberties groups raised serious concerns about the policing. Big Brother Watch tweeted:
The right to protest is the lifeblood of democracy.
Whatever you think of the lockdown measures, there's no doubt that they're a massive interference with our rights & freedoms.
People MUST be able to demonstrate against ANY Government policy they disagree with. 1/2 https://t.co/XJP1WvWRiB
— Big Brother Watch (@BigBrotherWatch) November 6, 2020
And it wasn’t just the protesters targeted by police. Freelance journalist Jason Parkinson tweeted a video of police liaison officers claiming he needed “permission from the police” to do his job. He said that the video:
shows a police liaison claiming accredited press need to seek authorisation from @metpoliceuk press bureau to cover a news story in a public place. Not a good start to #Lockdown2. Lets hope in future officers will respect the right of the press to report.
And as Big Brother Watch commented:
Not only have police cracked down hard on protesters – they’ve tried to scare off members of the press. Under the lockdown regulations, journalists do not need, & have never needed, permission from the police to do their jobs. This is chilling & wrong.
We need your help ...
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.
Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.
We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.
Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?