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Some anti-monarchy activists face repercussions after protesting royal events

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Millions of Britons have been mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth, but some in the U.K. oppose the institution she led - the monarchy. And when a few have tried to protest at royal events in recent days, some have been detained by police, and a few have even been arrested.

For more, we turn to our London correspondent, Frank Langfitt. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: And, Frank, you were in Edinburgh when some of these protests cropped up. So what happened?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Well, remember, the queen died at her castle in Balmoral up in Scotland. And so before her casket arrived in Edinburgh, there was an official proclamation announcing that Charles, her son, was the new king. And during this proclamation, Juana, a few - not many - a few people booed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: God save the king.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Boo.

LANGFITT: Now, I talked to a man who was in that crowd. His name's John Hall. He's part of this small anti-monarchy group in Scotland. And he told me he unfurled a flag that read, our republic for a democratic future. And then, Hall explained, this is what happened next.

JOHN HALL: About a dozen more police officers suddenly surrounded me and a small group of people. The police officer then said, we've heard reports that people are very upset with how you've behaved, and they are worried about it. And therefore, you may have caused a breach of the peace, so we're going to hold you here while we determine whether or not you have.

SUMMERS: And, Frank, what happened next?

LANGFITT: Well, Juana, Hall told me that after about 15 or 20 minutes, the police just let him go. But he said nearby, they arrested a woman who had this sign with an expletive on it about imperialism and saying, abolish the monarchy.

SUMMERS: OK. So people in the United Kingdom have a right to free speech, right? So what was she charged with?

LANGFITT: Well, what this thing is, it's called breaching the peace. And this comes from ancient common law here - conduct that causes alarm or threatens serious disturbance, which means, you know, conduct that could actually cause people to, you know, get violent. Now, I reached out to the cops in Scotland. They insisted that the arrests that they have made had nothing to do with people protesting, but was because of, quote, "their behavior." But they wouldn't provide any details until the cases go to court.

SUMMERS: OK. So what has been the public response to all of this?

LANGFITT: Well, as you can imagine, Juana, some of the royalists in the crowd in Edinburgh, they were furious. They thought this was completely inappropriate in terms of the timing and the venue. But I also talked to a guy named Adam Tomkins. He's a professor of constitutional law at the University of Glasgow. And he said at least one protest really was inflammatory. There was a man who yelled at Prince Andrew as he was walking up the road behind his mother's hearse. But Tomkins also said that if you're just holding a sign or a flag, that's protected speech. And this is how he put it.

ADAM TOMKINS: It is precisely in moments where there is a significant national consensus from which a minority of people want to dissent that their right to dissent needs to be protected. And it's uncomfortable to do it, right? I mean, you know, I am in mourning for the loss of the queen, and I don't like to see these protests.

LANGFITT: But, you know, Tomkins says protests are protected even if they're insensitive.

SUMMERS: OK. So Tomkins there is talking about protecting the minority view. And that raises a question, Frank. What share of the country opposes the monarchy?

LANGFITT: About 22% at the last poll that I saw. And I would say, given the sensitivities, I wouldn't expect many protests at all around the queen's funeral on Monday. But next year, when King Charles has this coronation, I think you're going to see - probably see a lot more.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thank you.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.