Rights groups and activists have urged police to allow free protests during Donald Trump’s visit to the UK this week, warning against a repeat of the political pressure alleged to have been seen during an equally contentious visit by China’s president.
Trump, who will be in Britain from Thursday to Sunday, is largely avoiding London, and will spend most of his time well away from demonstrations, in places such as Chequers, Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle, and Scotland.
The police forces covering the areas the US president will visit have promised to allow peaceful protests as far as is possible. But Amnesty International has warned against a repeat of the scenes in London when Xi Jinping visited in 2015.
Some activists seeking to protest against Xi complained they were corralled out of his view, allowing his route in London to be lined mainly by supportive Chinese nationals seemingly organised by Beijing officials.
Shao Jiang, a survivor of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who lives in the UK, complained to the police watchdog after he was arrested for allegedly conspiring to commit a public order offence for running into a road near where Xi was expected holding two A4-sized protest signs.
Police raided his home, seized computer equipment and imposed tough bail conditions, preventing him from joining any other anti-Xi protests.
Shao told the Guardian he believed such actions followed meetings between Chinese officials and UK representatives, including the police, before the visit. “They were very clear they wanted to avoid any embarrassment with the protests,” he said.
Shao said he was concerned Trump’s visit could be policed in a similar way: “I used to trust the police, but now I doubt them if they feel pressure from one of the superpowers on a policing operation,” he said.
He added: “If you want to protect democracy, a basic right is free expression and peaceful protest. If you lose these two rights, you lose democracy and other human rights.”
Amnesty, which has supported Shao in his complaints against the Metropolitan police, said it shared his concerns. The organisation will be joining protests in London, unveiling a huge banner saying “Human Rights Nightmare” on Vauxhall Bridge, facing the new US embassy.
Allan Hogarth, Amnesty’s head of policy, said visits by overseas leaders were “an opportunity for the UK to show that peaceful protest is an essential component of a free and fair society, not something to be shut down as a political embarrassment”.
He added: “We want to see UK police facilitating peaceful protest, not closing it down to appease their visitors.”
A Met police spokeswoman said the operation for Trump’s visit was “multi-faceted”. He said: “The requirements of this complex operation need to be balanced with the right of individuals to a freedom of speech.”
A spokesman for “Thames Valley police, whose area includes Blenheim Palace and Chequers, said the force “will maintain public order while ensuring that people are able to engage in peaceful protests if they wish to do so”.
For Police Scotland, assistant chief constable Mark Williams said the primary aim was to keep people safe, including Trump: “We also have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest and will be engaging with organisers of these events to ensure they pass off as safely as possible and that disruption to local communities and businesses is kept to a minimum.”