Protesters gathered at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park around noon, where anti-lockdown figurehead Piers Corbyn gave a speech saying he would “never take a vaccine” and wrongly claim the scale of the deaths due to Covid was no different from that of the flu each year. .
As police surrounded them and detained a handful of people as they ordered protesters to disperse, the crowd then marched out of the park and across London from Marble Arch.
62 MPs and peers wrote to the Home Secretary on Friday to say that allowing the police to criminalize people for demonstrating was “not acceptable and arguably not legal,” in a letter coordinated by Liberty and Big Brother Watch.
They said the right to protest was enshrined in human rights law, amid increasingly scrutiny of police tactics after officers forcibly dispersed protesters during the rally. a vigil for Sarah Everard last week.
The specific exemption from England’s coronavirus regulations allowing the right to protest was removed in November, but some legal experts said it remained a “reasonable excuse” to leave the house. It is widely believed that transmission of the coronavirus is much less likely outdoors.
Metropolitan Police said 36 people were arrested during the protest, adding: “Unfortunately, a number of officers were injured by crowds throwing bottles and other missiles. This is unacceptable (and) will not be tolerated. ”
Saturday’s protest began peacefully, but around 4 p.m. police began intervening to separate the crowds and continued to urge people to disperse, arresting a few.
Scenes in Speaker’s Corner after 5 p.m. became increasingly hectic, with officers ordering crowds to leave and arresting more protesters amid chants of “freedom”.
There were minor clashes as people opposed some tough policemen and officers were bombarded with bottles; they responded by raising the batons and leading many other demonstrators handcuffed to their vans.
At around 7 p.m., around 100 police officers wearing riot helmets and carrying shields arrived in Hyde Park and urged people to return home. Further protests are expected to take place elsewhere in the UK.
The Met tweeted that the officers were “engaging with those gathering around Piccadilly and other parts of central London to protest, explaining that we remain in a public health crisis and urging people to disperse or to go back home. ”
He previously said: “Current government law makes it illegal to gather in groups of more than two people unless exemptions apply. Gathering for the purpose of protest is not an exception under Covid-19 regulations. The right to demonstrate must be balanced against the rights of others and the protection of public health. ”
Last week, a High Court judge suggested that human rights of expression and assembly could be considered a reasonable excuse in certain circumstances, and the Met admitted there was no general ban on demonstrating.
If people don’t take a distance, however, it can become illegal, depending on the regulations. Activists say police should work to facilitate Covid-safe protests. Previous protests have been interrupted by police.
The letter to Priti Patel was signed by several Tory MPs, including Steve Baker and Christopher Chope, as well as Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, and a number of Labor MPs and peers, including Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti.
He urged Patel to “expressly exempt protests from restrictions on gatherings at all levels” immediately and highlighted the current situation where judging the legality of a protest is the responsibility of the police on a case-by-case basis.
“There is no legal certainty for the police regarding their duties and powers, and no legal certainty for demonstrators regarding their rights. This is not acceptable and is arguably not lawful, ”the letter said.
Sam Grant, Liberty’s policy and campaign manager, said: “We all need to be able to stand up to power and have our voices heard. In a healthy democracy, protest is an essential way to fight for what we believe in. The current virtual ban on demonstrations by the government is totally unacceptable.
Referring to the Police Bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Commons this week despite opposition from more than 150 charities, labor unions and human rights denominations, as well as the party Labor, Grant added: “Using short-term restrictions on protests to quell dissent as they move into permanent ones is as absurd as it is authoritarian. ”
Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “A country cannot be described as a democracy if people do not have the freedom to demonstrate. The heartbreaking scenes of police officers using force against women at Clapham Common recently were preventable and wrong. Over the past week, scores of other protesters and even legal observers have been arrested or fined. ”
But the Home Office maintained, in comments to the BBC, that “as long as we are still in a pandemic, we continue to urge people to avoid mass gatherings, in accordance with broader coronavirus restrictions.”