The imprisonment last week of citizen journalist and right-wing activist Tommy Robinson came to worldwide attention and resulted in protests outside 10 Downing Street, with half a million people signing a petition for his release.
However, a temporary media ban, which was lifted after legal challenges by the left-wing Independent website and local news outlet Leeds Live on Tuesday, prevented details of his arrest and sentencing hearing from being reported in the United Kingdom.
– Where Did It All Start? –
In the early hours of May 10th 2017, Tommy Robinson — real name Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon — was arrested in his home in Luton, Bedfordshire, for contempt of court.
On May 8th, the citizen journalist and two cameramen from Rebel Media had filmed at Canterbury Crown Court, looking to interview one of four male suspects accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in Ramsgate, Kent.
(The four suspects, Tamin Rahmani, 37, Shershah Muslimyar, 20, Rafiullah Hamidy, 24, and Hamid Mohamadi, 18, were all found guilty of gang-raping the teen three weeks later.)
Crown Courts are open to the press, but any filming and recording in court buildings is illegal under section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and the Contempt of Court Act, with judges now claiming that this can extend to “court precincts” — although mainstream press regularly congregate outside court buildings without sanction.
Robinson was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, with the sentence suspended for 18 months.
One year later, Robinson was detained outside Leeds Crown Court on Friday 25th of May 2018 after using social media to broadcast details of an ongoing trial which had been reported by the local press initially, but was later subject to blanket reporting restrictions.
The activist pleaded guilty to contempt of court on Friday and was handed a 13-month prison sentence: 10 months for contempt of court, and a further three months for breaching the suspended sentence — to be served consecutively rather than concurrently, which is unusual.
In what Leeds Live called a “rare move”, Robinson had been arrested, brought before a judge, and sentenced within five hours.
– Media Silence –
However, details of Robinson’s arrest and imprisonment had all but been wiped from the British media after publications such as Breitbart News, the Scottish Daily Record, local press Birmingham Live, the left-wing Mirror, and others were forced to delete their articles throughout the day.
Leeds Crown Court had issued a UK media ban following the 35-year-old’s arrest, the reporting restriction put in place, the judge said in the order, to avoid “a substantial risk of prejudice” in the proceedings of the case the right-wing activist was reporting on. This ban was to be active until the end of the trial.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 26, 2018
However, media outlets outside Britain began to report on the strange case of Tommy Robinson falling down the memory hole, with social media becoming an alternative news platform for Britons to access details of the case.
Breitbart London posted a copy of the reporting restrictions — heavily redacted, in what the U.S. Gatestone Institute said “proved to be a perfect illustration of Western Europe’s encroaching tyranny”.
– Worldwide Reaction –
The story came to prominence on a global scale after being covered by right-wing U.S. news network Fox News, Alex Jones-owned Infowars, and was featured as the lead article on the highly-influential news aggregator Drudge Report on Saturday. The case also came to the attention of President Donald J. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
Support came from figures including anti-mass migration Australian political firebrand Pauline Hanson and German populist MP Petr Bystron, who told Breitbart London he wanted to try to help Robinson claim political asylum in Germany.
Robinson’s former employer, Canada-based Rebel Media chief Ezra Levant, accused British authorities of hypocrisy for imposing such a lengthy sentence in prison, claiming other reporters on the left had received lighter sentences for Contempt of Court.
Within Britain, UKIP leader Gerard Batten tweeted about the arrest, asking: “What kind of police state have we become?”
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) May 27, 2018
Maajid Nawaz, founder of the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam which Robinson joined after leaving the English Defence League, did not defend Robinson, but said: “I just wished those young girls [victims of predominatly Pakistani-Muslim grooming gangs] had seen justice served for them as fast as the judge served Tommy Robinson justice in this case.”
However, others, including former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, believed that “Robinson, frankly, was out there asking for trouble, and I don’t think it was a very bright thing do.”
The Brexit campaigner did add that there was a wider issue with police clamping down on those who “make certain criticisms in society”, however.
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) May 27, 2018
– #FreeTommy –
On Saturday the 26th, thousands of supporters of Tommy Robinson gathered down Whitehall to peacefully protest his imprisonment and the media blackout, in what they considered an attack on free speech, press freedom, and a targetted assault on right-wing thought.
Protesters chanted towards the direction of 10 Downing Street, calling “shame on you” and holding “#FreeTommy” signs.
One woman held a cardboard sign which read: “Free the truth teller. Free Tommy”.
Supporters urge the release of Robinson, fearing that the prison sentence could be an effective death sentence, should he fall into the hands of Islamist inmates.
UKIP leader Gerard Batten said that one of the party’s members of the House of Lords, Malcolm Pearson, had written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid on Sunday, tweeting: “If Tommy is murdered or injured in prison he [Lord Pearson] and others will mount a private prosecution against Mr Javid as an accessory, or for misconduct in public office.”
— Vervima News (@VervimaMedia) May 26, 2018
The protest later moved down Parliament Street, past the Houses of Parliament to the Victoria Embankment Gardens along the River Thames, where speeches by right-wing activists and free speech campaigners continued.
Notably, author and former Breitbart London editor in chief Raheem Kassam gave a powerful speech in the Victoria Embankment Gardens in support of Robinson, free speech, and warned of the “police state” that Britain was rapidly becoming.
Addressing the passionate audience, Mr. Kassam said: “The stakes for [the elite] are pretty high, but for us they are immeasurable. We don’t have anything to lose. They’ve taken everything from us already. They’ve stripped us of our rights, they’ve stripped us of our dignity, and they strip us our money.
“Now, they seek to strip us of the last thing we have to fight them: our words. Our speech.”
“Do you see now why the Americans cling to their guns… they maintain them as a final defence against great tyranny.”
Confirming that Tommy was fine and content, Kassam added that next possible legal move would be explored on Tuesday but asserted “if I had the key, he’d be out!”
“When is it going to happen to all of us?” he said. “We have been complacent, we have been naive, we have been docile for far too long…while the rights have been stripped away from us.”
“We let them take the power from us… the managerial political classes took it from us,” Kassam said.
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) May 29, 2018
“If you don’t think they are coming for every single person in this country who are saying things that are inappropriate or difficult for the political establishment you are kidding yourselves,” Kassam said, warning that it would only be a matter of time before it would be every free person’s “turn to be deleted, silenced, arrested, with your life in jeopardy”.
“We all know you are being called racists and deplorables. Well, I’m a deplorable too,” he said, and quoted Breitbart News Network founder Andrew Breitbart who said: “Walk toward the fire.”
“Don’t worry about what they call you,” Kassam said. “They say that to stop you in your tracks. But if you keep going, you’ll send a message to people who are rooting for you and to those who agree with you that you can do it too.”
Inversing American Revolutionary patriot Paul Revere’s cry, “the British are coming”, Kassam signalled that the UK was not lost and that “the British are coming back.”
Not pictured: blue skies pic.twitter.com/Kcz6074zAD
— Vervima News (@VervimaMedia) May 26, 2018