• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Protest in London after Tommy Robinson Arrest

From the Evening Standard:

Hundreds of far-right protesters have descended on Whitehall to demonstrate against Tommy Robinson’s arrest for ‘breaching the peace’ outside a courthouse.

Whitehall had to be closed to traffic as a huge group gathered outside Downing Street on Saturday afternoon, chanting Mr Robinson’s name.

It’s not clear how much can be said about this in the UK – there is apparently a court order that imposes reporting restrictions, and some earlier newspaper stories about the arrest have been removed from the internet. There is nothing sinister about this: there are trials taking place at the courthouse concerned, and the temporary ban would have been imposed to protect the integrity of those proceedings. I assume the Evening Standard knows what it is doing, but out of an abundance of caution I provide no link or go into further details.

However, the information void on social media has of course been filled with the ramblings of blowhards and conspiracy theorists, who claim that an authoritarian state has detained Robinson because he is a high-profile critic of Islam. Those making inflammatory comments along these lines include public figures, such as Geert Wilders (in a piece published by the Gatestone Institute) and the UKIP leader Gerald Batten, who recently appeared with Robinson at others at a supposed “Day for Freedom” rally in London.

Without speculating about the specific grounds for the new arrest, Robinson’s apparent decision to show up outside a court building is surprising, given that he was specifically warned a year ago at Canterbury Crown Court not to do this. This was a condition for having a prison sentence suspended (I discussed the circumstances here); the judge at the time cautioned him that

In short, Mr. Yaxley-Lennon [Robinson’s real name], turn up at another court, refer to people as “Muslim paedophiles, Muslim rapists” and so forth while trials are ongoing and before there has been a finding by a jury that that is what they are, and you will find yourself inside. Do you understand?

There may be some pedantic ambiguity here over whether Robinson must adhere to all of these restrictions together, or might be allowed to “show up at another court” so long as he behaved himself, but any sensible person would surely assume the broadest interpretation and act accordingly. Such a general ban was quite reasonable – it should be remembered that judge was balancing leniency with risk management.

Many of Robinson’s supporters may not be aware of the Canterbury outcome; at the time, he made a short video in which he declared “victory” and a “court win”, but added that he was unable to go into detail. This was because he had raised funds on the promise that he would mount a free-speech defence, but had then pleaded guilty and thrown himself on the court’s mercy.