UK compared to Russia after barrister threatened with arrest over blank piece of paper

Multiple people have been arrested for anti-monarchy protests during the national mourning period

Thomas Kingsley
Wednesday 14 September 2022 08:31 BST
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Man claims police officer warned him about arrest if he wrote ‘not my King’ on placard

A UK barrister being threatened with arrest over a blank sheet of paper has led to comparison of Russia’s crackdown on dissent.

Barrister Paul Powlesland filmed his interaction with an officer who claimed that the sign “may offend” people if he wrote “not my King” on it.

Mr Powlesland said he was threatened with arrest, writing on Twitter: “Just went to Parliament Square and held up a blank piece of paper.

“Officer came and asked for my details. He confirmed that if I wrote ‘Not My King’ on it, he would arrest me under the Public Order Act because someone might be offended.”

The incident has been compared to the March 2022 arrest of a woman in Russia who was dragged away by police for holding a blank sign amid a brutal crackdown on dissent over the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian police dragged the woman away for holding up a blank sign

Mr Powlesland’s brush with police has fuelled concern over the arrests of anti-monarchy protesters in the wake of the accession of Charles III, who automatically became the UK’s head of state following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

A 22-year-old man who heckled Prince Andrew while he walking behind the Queen’s coffin in the royal procession was charged with breaching the peace while a woman who held an “abolish monarchy” sign at a proclamation ceremony for King Charles III in Edinburgh was charged with the same offence.

Mr Powlesland’s stunt echoes the case of a woman dragged away by Russian police for holding a blank sign.

Russian officers in Nizhny Novgorod arrested the demonstrator while she held up a blank sign as police sought to crack down on protests against the war in Ukraine during its early stages.

The protesters are told by officers: “I demand you stop your illegal activity immediately,” to which a protester holding a blank piece of paper replied: “I’m continuing.”

In another incident, Russian police arrested a woman holding a tiny sign with “two words” written on it.

In the footage, a horde of heavily armoured policemen descended on a young woman in Manezhnaya Square in Moscow after she stood by herself and held up a small paper sign.

The woman was asked by a cameraman if she supports the activists who have been protesting Russia’s war on Ukraine.

She replied that she did and said: “I’d like to ask your opinion, if I could just say two words... Am I going to get arrested for this or not?” The cameraman then replied “you’re already being detained” as a swarm of police officers whisked the woman away.

The woman was carried away by Russian forces for holding the tiny sign

One social media compared the scenes in Russia to recent arrests in the UK and said: “UK barrister and activist Paul Powlesland has been threatened with arrest for holding up a blank sheet of paper. In the UK. In his own city. When the below happened in Russia, people in UK were outraged. And now?”

Demonstrators have also begun holding blank sheets of paper outside of St Giles’ Cathedral where the Queen is lying in state.

Coventry South MP, Zara Sultana condemned the police arrests on anti-monarchy protests.

“No-one should be arrested for just expressing republican views,” she wrote on Twitter. “Extraordinary – and shocking – that this needs saying.”

Labour MP Richard Burgon added: “I'm deeply concerned by reports that people are being arrested for expressing their views in support of a Republic. In a democracy, people must always have the right to peacefully express their opinions. I will be seeking to raise this in Parliament when it resumes next week.”

Amnesty Scotland said the rights of freedom of expression should be upheld at all times “even those of national mourning.”

“It’s incredibly important that at all times – even those of national mourning – that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest are upheld. No one should be arrested for peacefully expressing their opinion,” the organisation said.

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