Police ask for tougher flag arrests rules ahead of UK pro-Palestine marches

UK officers want guidance on charging thresholds related to hate crime to support for policing in coming days

People take part in a demonstration in support of Palestine at the Israeli Embassy on October 9, in London. Getty Images
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British police have asked prosecutors for guidance on tougher arrest rules related to protests where the Palestinian flag is used, as a thousand officers are to be deployed on Saturday to control mass marches in London.

A series of protests are being held across the UK and major cities around the world calling for solidarity with Palestine amid the conflict with Israel.

Following the intervention by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, police said the Palestinian flag was an expression of support for its people.

However, that the Attorney General and prosecutors were urged to give clarity on when a flag or banner would be deemed as being used to intimidate or cause distress.

“There are some situations where the presence of a flag or banner or the use of specific words or phrases could be seen as intimidation. In some circumstances, it could also be seen as intending to cause harassment, alarm or distress,” the force said.

The March for Palestine is expected to draw tens of thousands into the UK capital, with protesters heading to the BBC's headquarters.

More than 1,000 officers will be on duty, working alongside stewards and organisers.

“Our role as an independent and impartial service is to balance the right to lawful protest with potential disruption to Londoners,” deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor said.

“People do not have the right to incite violence or hatred. The law is clear that support for proscribed organisations is illegal. Anyone with a flag in support of Hamas or any other proscribed terrorist organisation will be arrested.”

Demonstrators in various other cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, Bolton, Coventry, Cambridge, Plymouth and Swansea, will express their support for besieged Gaza residents and Palestine.

Organisers expect the national demonstration to attract “thousands” of people, and pointed to the 200,000 people who joined their rally during the 2021 war on Gaza.

“We expect there to be more this time,” said Bhavesh Hindocha a representative of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

He added that people were being deterred from joining the demonstrations after Ms Braverman warned police chiefs in a letter that public displays of Palestinian flags could be considered “illegitimate” if they implied support for acts of terrorism.

“There's a lot of fear. People are scared to come out because of the threat of arrests. The government would like us not to protest,” he said.

Campaigner Muktar Ali, of Bradford Friends of Palestine, said a lot of people in the north would be travelling to London.

“There will be a national march in London and I have had a lot of calls from people in the north wishing to travel down to attend. There will also be protests across the north in Liverpool, Manchester and Bolton,” he told The National.

“The footage coming out of Gaza is difficult to watch. There are bodies of children and of people drying due to not having medication. Hospitals and universities have been destroyed.

“These marches are very important. We want the world to know that Israel is committing war crimes on innocent people. They should not be targeting the innocent civilian population.

“We need to raise awareness of their plight to help them. We are just ordinary people but we stand together with one voice, to call on the UK and other nations to help Palestine.”

Cambridge also is expected to echo with voices calling for solidarity with the people of Gaza and Palestine.

The focus remains on demanding an end the prolonged siege of Gaza and presenting a united front against the continuing conflict and its repercussions.

Ministers say enforcement must act decisively against any support shown towards Hamas or actions that seem to intimidate the UK’s Jewish community.

Dame Lynne Owens, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, gave more clarity when she said expressing support for Palestinians, including the act of waving Palestinian flags, would not automatically be considered a criminal offence.

Updated: October 13, 2023, 6:02 PM