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‘Republic’ detainee: We’ll keep fighting for the right to protest

Since the coronation arrests, our membership almost doubled. We'll keep up the fight - not just for republicans, but for anyone who wants a functioning democracy in this country. 

May 13 2023, 15.21pm

Our plan was to have a protest in Trafalgar Square. We got down there pretty early, because we knew there would be massive crowds, and we needed time to grab our spot and to set up. We had a van of placards, and shopping trolley that we were going to us to distribute the signs to protesters  - we expected about 2,000 people to turn up. 

I got there at half six, and by that time police were already all around the van. We were pretty chill about that, because we’ve been liaising with the police for month and didn’t think we had anything uncanny in the van, even under the new laws. But after about 10 more minutes of searching they pulled out the luggage straps, which which we were using to secure the trolleys. 

Soon as they found the straps, they walked off to talk to senior officers, and then came back and arrested us. They read us the Public Order Bill - Locking On, handcuffed us, and carted us off to us down to Walworth police station. Luckily, Bram, the coordinator of the Dutch campaign and two of our board members were  able to walk alongside the police car and film us being arrested, and the clips pretty soon hit the social media. 

Now, we’ve been liaising with the police for about four months, but the officers who received us at the station didn’t even know about the liaison.

I was handcuffed for about 40 minutes and stayed in jail for about 16 or 17 hours.  I’m not going to be macho about only spending a brief spell in a prison cell. It’s not nice. You get one phone call to friends and family and one or two to lawyers, whom we luckily had lined up. Then you just wait. 

The first few hours are a mix of confusion and boredom: I’ve never been arrested before. You don’t know if there are going to be charges, especially considering how new the laws are. There’s a lot of anxiety. I don’t want to be overdramatic, because people spend weeks, months in holding cells, on the edge all the time, not knowing when they will know anything at all. But it’s not pleasant. 

There appeared to be complete disconnect in the Met between the officers on the ground and the people at the station who needs to process it. And people at the station seem to realise it’s all nonsense - getting arrested for carrying luggage straps. Plus, we’re Republic, we’re a pretty well-known group doing pretty standard stuff. The odds we’d do anything extreme were nil. Although truth be told, the officers didn’t really seem to know who any of us were.

They seemed perplexed, like the most they were expecting to handle on Coronation Day were people for the drunk tank, and then they had this major political event on their hands. It was pretty obvious they weren’t talking to the officers on the ground and the officers on the ground weren’t talking to the officers who leased with us. Still, even as the state was obviously turning toward authoritarianism, they guys still went doing their jobs and doing what they were told. 

I got my interview after about 15 hours, and then everything started moving really fast. They still held us a little while longer, but released without charges as soon as we missed the prime interview slots on the 10 o’clock news - they knew there were Sky and BBC cameras lined up outside the prison just for that.

Still, if they thought this would dampen the backlash, they were mistaken. We were all over the news, here and abroad. Our arrests ended up the very loud second fiddle to the coronation. Charles being crowned and us being the first casualties of the new protest laws ended up being the two major stories of the day. 

Since the arrests, we must have had over 3,000 new members joining - our membership before that was 4,000, so we’ve almost doubled. Plus we had lots of people offering donations - one guy just gave us 10,000 quid, which will help. That was one miscalculation - they seemed to think we’re so fringe, but half the people in the country support changes to the monarchy and a third support becoming a republic. Still, I guess many were just incensed by the arrests, period. 

Our main thing is still republicanism: you can count on us to be wherever Charles goes from now on, for as long as he’s King. Still, we also want to build a big, broad front to to reclaim and defend this very basic right, the right to protest. We’ll keep pushing into the future - not just for republicans, but simply for democracy in our country. 

As told to Dimi Reider.  

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