MANAMA – Yasser Ibrahim – Ten days of witnessing preparations for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral have raised concerns about freedom of expression in the United Kingdom, with some resorting to “white banners”, a tradition dating back to the eighteenth century. So what does this mean? And what does that mean?
Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 96, and Buckingham Palace announced her death on the evening of Thursday, September 8, the same morning doctors expressed concern about her condition and recommended that she be kept under observation. British throne a year ago. 1952, and ruled over 32 countries, in the Commonwealth of Nations which was formed after the end of the extended British colonial rule of those countries, this number was later reduced to 15 countries.
After Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign in the United Kingdom, her eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, automatically became King of the United Kingdom, taking over the leadership of the oldest royal family, as the family’s rule extended for more than a thousand years. years, and King Charles III succeeded his mother as ruler of those lands.
On Monday 19 September, the final journey for the Queen’s funeral began, as thousands lined the streets to watch her coffin travel from the historic Westminster Hall in the British Parliament to nearby Westminster Abbey and eventually Windsor Castle; where she will be buried with her late husband.
Arrests and concerns about freedom of expression in Britain
Media coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s death dominated the world’s atmosphere and continues to this day, but drawing attention to it was not a pure expression of grief, as it also brought back the long history of British colonialism in Africa and around the world. in front
Under the title “A cloud of colonialism hangs over the legacy of Queen Elizabeth in Africa”, the American CNN network observed how the death of Queen Elizabeth II sparked many reactions on the Internet, which were not all sad about her. Some of the young African queens’ long careers published pictures and stories of grandparents who endured a brutal period of British colonial history.
“I don’t feel sorry for her,” one young African woman wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of her grandmother holding a “mobility permit,” a colonial document that restricts freedom of movement in the East African country of British colonial Kenya. .
But even in the United Kingdom, which includes Britain, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, rights groups have criticized the fact that anti-monarchy protests and many arrests have been made during extended mourning events. Expressed concern about the meaning of freedom of expression in the country.
Police in Scotland arrested two people last week on suspicion of disturbing the peace, while one man was arrested in the Oxford area before being released later. The arrest coincided with the Queen’s death and the inauguration of Charles III as Britain’s new king.
Authorities have charged a 22-year-old woman with disturbing the peace after she was arrested outside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh while announcing the inauguration of the King. She was later released and will appear in court in the Scottish capital later.
On the same day, Simon Hill, 45, was asked “Who elected him?” After shouting, he was detained on suspicion of public order offence. During another promotion in Oxford. Thames Valley Police said Hill was later released and “voluntarily” assisted officers.
Yesterday, officers arrested the 22-year-old for disturbing the peace after they said he disturbed Prince Andrew as he drove the royal carriage along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
Ruth Smith, chief executive of the Censorship Index, told the BBC that the arrests were “extremely worrying” and added: “We must be careful not to use this incident, whether by accident or on purpose, to undermine freedom of expression. This country rejoices. Either way.”
“Police officers have a duty to protect people’s right to protest as much as they have a duty to facilitate people’s right to express support, condolence or respect,” said Silki Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch.
Judy Beck, Liberty’s policy and campaigns officer, said, “It is deeply disturbing to see the police imposing their broad powers in a draconian and punitive manner.” “Prohibition is not a gift of the state, it is a fundamental right,” she added.
Arrest of “White Banner” holder
But the case of British lawyer Paul Ballsland, even though he is not in custody, has sparked criticism of the authorities. The lawyer was the hero of a controversial incident in Parliament Square, London on September 12, when a police officer approached him and asked for his personal details.
Ballsland, who filmed part of the conversation between him and the officer and posted it on Twitter, said the officer told him he would arrest him if he wrote “not mine” on the white paper, according to a BBC report.
There were no reports of “white” banner protests and arrests in Edinburgh, as was the Queen’s coffin parade in the streets of Scotland, but the uproar over Ballsland’s video on Twitter prompted London police to issue a statement saying people “.pretend it’s their right.”
The Metropolitan Police wrote on its Twitter page on September 12: “Of course people have the right to protest and we have made this clear to all officers involved in the ongoing extraordinary security operation.”
The reason for this criticism of the police is, of course, that everyone in the United Kingdom is guaranteed the right to peaceful protest. The rights to freedom of expression and assembly are enshrined in the European Charter of Human Rights, which was codified into British law in 1998 as the Human Rights Act.
But these human rights have limits. Other laws allow the police to restrict freedom when it is necessary and appropriate to do so – especially when necessary to protect national security and public safety, or to prevent disorder or crime.
Protesters may be arrested under the Public Order Act. Section 5 of that Act gives the police in England and Wales the power to arrest a person if their behavior is likely to cause distress, alarm or inconvenience to others. Protestors charged with such violations may be subject to monetary penalties.
What is the story of the “white banner” for protest purposes?
As a British citizen was forced to raise a “white banner” to express his protest, apart from human rights concerns, it also opened the door to questions about the origins of this form of protest, which dates back to the past. Eighteenth century.
An expert in the history of demonstrations and collective action at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, Dr. Katrina Navikas told the BBC that demonstrating with white banners follows in the footsteps of other forms of dissent in the 18th century.
Sailors added that ‘the Democratic Charter Movement of the 1840s organized silent demonstrations in the streets against the suppression of their regular meetings by local authorities. A ‘Thinking Club’ was formed in Manchester in 1795 to hold silent meetings to protest the Prohibition of Government Acts. ‘Deshadhoi Sabha’ and democratic groups.
But Dr. Navikas said she was not aware of any instances in the UK’s recent history of demonstrations with slogans, signs and even plain white banners bearing political issues. “It seems like a new innovation in a cynical way of criticizing the limitations imposed by power.”
In general, this is not the first time that the “White Paper” has been used for the purpose of demonstrations and protests, but this type of protest is more frequent in countries where any dissent is suppressed.
Police in Kazakhstan detained a young activist named Aslan Sagutinov in 2019 after holding a white banner and standing in front of local council offices in Abe Square in the country’s western Central Urals.
In the video, the 24-year-old activist said, “I am not participating in the protest, but I want to prove that even if there are no words written on the sign, they will take me to the police station. I did not raise any slogans.”
White banners have also been seen in Russia over the past two decades, but have become more common in the wake of the Russian attack on Ukraine last February, which Moscow described as a “special military operation” and called a war or invasion. . Reports and accounts appeared on social media and independent media that people holding white banners were arrested in several Russian cities.
Sometimes this kind of protest is particularly “troubling” for officials, Dr. Navikas says: “Unlike silent protests, it is difficult for the police to prove that a crime has been committed or that there is intent behind it. To commit a crime.”
Protests in Hong Kong in 2020 against new security laws imposed by China on the territory, which criminalize some pro-democracy slogans, also included white banners as part of the protests.