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Thursday, 17 February 2011

At last, a victory for the rights of the majority: Judges reject appeal by Muslims who shouted abuse at hero soldiers

By Andrew Levy, 17th February 2011, from the Mail Online

Judges yesterday staunchly defended the ‘rights of the majority’ as they threw out an appeal by a group of Muslims against their conviction for hurling hate-filled abuse at soldiers.

The High Court ruled that the men were not acting within their human rights when they heckled and jeered members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment as they marched through Luton after returning from Afghanistan.

The anti-war protesters caused outrage when they called the troops – who had previously served in Iraq – rapists, murderers and baby killers.

The five who lost their appeal: From left, Choudhury, Rahman, Ahmed, Abdul and Bashir:

They also waved placards with slogans including ‘Butchers of Basra’ and ‘cowards, killers, extremists’.

Yesterday’s judgment was hailed as a ‘victory for common sense’. Politicians and campaigners believe the courts have sometimes helped promote minority rights and sensibilities over those of the majority of the British people.

After the Luton protest, five Muslim men were convicted of using threatening, abusive or insulting words likely to cause harassment, alarm of distress.

They appealed against their convictions at the High Court, arguing that they were legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to protest under European human rights laws.

But in their ruling two judges said the men’s actions had gone well beyond ‘legitimate expressions of protest’.

Flashback: Protesters at the homecoming parade:

Tellingly, they added that ‘the focus on minority rights should not result in overlooking the rights of the majority’.

Lord Justice Gross said: ‘There was all the difference in the world between expressing the view that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were illegal or immoral and that British forces should not be engaged in them and the abusive and insulting chants of the appellants. To attend a parade of this nature and to shout that this country’s soldiers were “murderers”, “baby killers”, “rapists all of you” who would or should “burn in hell” gave rise to a very clear threat to public order.’
He said the men were fortunate there had been no serious outbreak of violence and attributed their safety to ‘skilful policing’.

Lord Justice Gross added that freedom of expression was not an unqualified right and ‘the justification for invoking the criminal law is the threat to public order’.

In striking ‘the right balance when determining whether speech is “threatening, abusive or insulting”, the focus on minority rights should not result in overlooking the rights of the majority’, he added.

Mr Justice Davis agreed, saying the right to exercise freedom of expression – under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – ‘necessarily carries with it duties and responsibilities’.

He added: ‘These were not just generalised statements of views, vigorously expressed, on the morality of the war but were personally abusive and potentially defamatory of those soldiers.

‘That the soldiers themselves were, as it happened, broad shouldered enough not to care one jot does not matter.’

Although the battalion is currently based in Cyprus, Bedfordshire is one of their main recruiting areas.

Trouble flared on March 10, 2009, when the 200 members of the battalion – who had lost 12 men during two tours of Iraq and one in Afghanistan – marched through Luton to a meeting with their colonel-in-chief, the Duke of Gloucester.

There were heated exchanges between members of the public who had turned out to cheer on the soldiers and the anti-war contingent, who had been penned into a small area for their safety.
Five protesters – Jalal Ahmed, 22, Munim Abdul, 29, Yousaf Bashir, 30, Shajjadar Choudhury, 32, and Ziaur Rahman, 33, all from Luton – were later found guilty at the town’s magistrates court of public order offences.

Each received a two-year conditional discharge and was ordered to pay £500 costs.

Luton South MP Gavin Shuker described yesterday’s dismissal of their appeal as ‘a victory for common sense’.

He said: ‘Describing our servicemen and women as baby killers and rapists is incendiary and was deeply distressing.’

Tom Lennett, 67, a former reservist in the Royal Anglian Regiment who was in the crowd at the parade in 2009, said: ‘I’m very pleased the verdicts have been upheld but I think they should have been given stronger sentences in the first place. They got off lightly. What they did was shameful.’

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