Scotland Yard has reportedly arrested several protesters who gathered outside the Indian High Commission in central London, as a show of support for farmers demonstrating against agricultural reforms in India on Sunday.
Several law enforcement officers descended upon Aldwych to police the “We stand with farmers of Punjab” demonstration, after having warned the protesters that strict measures have been enforced to help prevent the spread of coronavirus and therefore demonstrations consisting of more than 30 people risk arrests and fines.
The Metropolitan Police had said a “robust” policing plan will be in place and officers will take action if they witness any breach of the regulations. The Metropolitan Police said that 13 people in total were arrested for breaching Covid-19 regulations. Four of them were subsequently released, while nine others remain in custody.
“We had issued a reminder urging those who were planning to attend to reconsider but, unfortunately, a number of people decided not to follow that advice. A proportionate policing plan was in place, the demonstration has now concluded and those in attendance have begun to leave,” said Met Police Commander Paul Brogden.
“If you attend a gathering that breaches the regulations, you may be committing an offence, which is punishable by a fine. In certain circumstances, if you hold a gathering of over 30 persons and you do not meet the requirements of the regulations you might be committing a different offence, which is also punishable by a fine,” he said.
“I would strongly urge anyone who is planning to come to the Aldwych area to reconsider. I would also encourage anyone who is currently in attendance to leave the area. Our officers will take the appropriate action where necessary,” he added.
The demonstration, largely made up of British Sikhs, involved placard waving with messages such as “Justice for Farmers” and sloganeering.
“Our High Commission has been coordinating closely with the authorities concerned and we will, together with them, address the issues that have come up – for example how this gathering of thousands could take place without specific permission,” an Indian High Commission spokesperson said.
“It soon became clear that the gathering was led by anti-India separatists who had taken the opportunity of the protests in India to ostensibly back the farmers in India but use the opportunity to pursue their own anti-India agenda,” the spokesperson added.
The High Commission reiterated the government’s stance that the protest against agriculture reform bills in India is part of an internal democratic process. “It is work in progress in our functioning democracy. The government of India is in talks with the protesters which are still ongoing. Needless to say, it is an internal issue of India,” the spokesperson said.
The protest comes after a group of 36 British MPs led by British Sikh Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi had written to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab asking him to make representations to his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar on the impact on British Punjabis affected by the farmers’ protests in India.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has said that while it is yet to receive the letter, the matter India’s internal issue. “The police handling of protests are a matter for the government of India,” an FCDO spokesperson said.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting at the Delhi-Haryana border since November 26, seeking repeal of three farm laws enacted in September. Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and several other states have taken part in the protests.
Dubbing these laws as "anti-farmer", these farmers claim that the newly enacted legislations would pave way for dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporations.
However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.
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