The Metropolitan police has warned people against joining a mass anti-lockdown protest due to take place on Saturday in central London, saying that such gatheringsare banned under current coronavirus legislation.
A Met statement said: “Protest is not currently a permitted exemption to the prohibition on gatherings under the current coronavirus regulations.
“Strict regulations have been introduced by the government nationally to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. This means that anyone gathering for protest risks enforcement action by officers.”
Anti-lockdown protest groups had called for supporters to travel to Kings Cross, London, for a mass protest at midday. However, by 11am the location had already been changed after police made arrests among those arriving at the mainline train station.
“Please ensure you have access to social media throughout the day, as the rally will need to be reactive to circumstances,” StandUpX, an anti-lockdown group, said in a flyer posted on Telegram. “Bring pots, pans, whistles, party horns and anything you can to be heard.”
The potential number of people who were planning to join the protest was unclear but previous similar demonstrations have drawn tens of thousands. Previous protests this month have been forcibly broken up by police. On 5 November, police arrested 190 people at a protest.
A police spokesman would not discuss the protest, according to the PA news agency, but said officers would be monitoring coaches travelling into the capital.
Ch Supt Stuart Bell said: “This type of behaviour not only breaks the law, it also risks spreading the virus between multiple areas of the country. It is for this reason that we urge people not to travel into London and this is also why we will be taking appropriate enforcement action if this happens.”
Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, who has campaigned on civil liberties during the coronavirus emergency, described the police claim about the current law on protest as “outrageous”.
“In practice, police are increasingly treating protests as banned,” she said. “The right to protest is the bedrock of any democracy. It’s clear to me that there’s a deliberate attempt to chill that right and misrepresent the law.”
She said her organisation was working with a number of people who had been wrongfully denied their right to protest.