(CNN) A senior UK government minister has defended the actions of the Metropolitan Police during anti-monarchy protests in London on Saturday, saying that officers had to make “rough calls” during Coronation of King Charles III On the day witnessed 52 arrests.
It comes after the much-maligned Metropolitan Police force faced criticism for what many described as a harsh approach to protesters. Many opposition MPs and human rights groups condemned the police action.
However, UK Culture Secretary Lucy Fraser said that while the right to protest remains “really important” in a democracy, protesters’ tactics have shifted in recent years to interrupt people going about their daily lives.
She told the BBC that officers had to make “strict appeals” on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind the importance of the occasion on Saturday.
Fraser said the police are tasked with balancing people’s right to protest and overseeing an international event on the world stage.
Criticism of the Metropolitan Police, the UK’s largest force, comes amid growing concern about increasing police powers to stifle dissent in Britain, following the introduction of a law A controversial piece of legislation.
In the days leading up to the historic event, the force said its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low,” adding, “We will deal firmly with anyone bent on undermining this celebration.”
Thousands gathered in central London on Saturday to mark the once-in-a-generation occasion. But it also attracted protesters, with yellow-shirted protesters booing and shouting “not mine” all morning.
Republic, Britain’s largest anti-monarchy group, told CNN on Saturday that police – without giving any reason – had arrested the organizers of the anti-monarchy protest.
At around 7 a.m. (2 a.m. ET), police stopped six Republic organizers and told them they were detaining and searching them, Republic director Harry Stratton said.
“They didn’t say why they were arrested. They didn’t tell them or tell us where they were taking them. It’s really like something out of a police state,” Stratton said.
Graham Smith, CEO of Republic, was among those detained. He was later released from police custody.
“I’ve been told so many times that the King is there to defend our freedoms. And now our freedoms are under attack in his name,” Smith said on Twitter.
Labor MP Chris Bryant posted on Twitter Saturday: “Freedom of speech is the silver thread running through a parliamentary constitutional monarchy.”
Jess Phillips, also a Labor MP, said on Twitter: “Our nation and our King are not so fragile that they cannot protest harmlessly from a different point of view.”
UK director of Human Rights Watch, Yasmin Ahmed, called the police’s actions troubling and “something you would expect to see in Moscow, not London”.
The Met said the arrests were made on Saturday for offenses including affray, public order offences, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.
Defending acts of force. Commander Karen Findlay said that while they “fully understand the public concern”, the police also have a “duty to intervene when a protest becomes criminal and may cause serious disorder”.
British news agency BI Media reported that members of the environmental activist group Just Stop Oil were arrested in the mall outside Buckingham Palace, adding that a large group of protesters were seen handcuffed.
According to the PA, Animal Rising said some of its supporters were arrested Saturday while at a training session “miles away from the coronation ceremony.” Nathan McGovern, a spokesman for the electoral group, described the arrests as “nothing less than an authoritarian suppression of freedom of expression and all forms of dissent.”
CNN’s Niamh Kennedy, Christian Edwards, Lindsay Isaacs, Allegra Goodwin, and Xiaofei Shaw contributed to this report.
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