UK: Police Award Payout to Black Christian Arrested for Preaching

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Scotland Yard has agreed to pay a Christian preacher £2,500 ($3,095) for wrongful arrest and humiliating treatment after the Metropolitan Police detained him last February, stripped him of his Bible, handcuffed him, and drove him several miles away where they left him.

The 64-year-old Pentecostal Christian, Oluwole Ilesanmi, said he welcomed the decision as a victory for freedom of speech. Mr Ilesanmi moved to the United Kingdom from Nigeria in 2010 as a Protestant missionary.

Two officers approached the former dentist last February as he was preaching outside Southgate Tube station in North London. Police reportedly had received a call from a passer-by accusing Mr Ilesanmi of hate speech.

A viral video of the arrest that has now been viewed over ten million times stirred up a public outcry and the advocacy group Christian Concern took up the man’s case, which eventually led to the decision to compensate the man for damages.

In their police report, the arresting officers said they had arrested Mr IIesanmi “to prevent a breach of the peace” yet video footage of the event shows no hostile or aggressive conduct by Mr Ilesanmi.

In the verbal exchange recorded in the two-minute video, one of the officers tells the preacher, “we are going to require you to go away,” or “I will arrest you for breach of peace.”

“You’re causing problems; you’re disturbing people’s days and you’re breaching their peace,” the officer said.

To this, Mr Ilesamni replied, “I will not go away because I need to tell them the truth. Jesus is the only way, truth and life.”

“Nobody wants to listen to that,” the policeman replied.

The video also shows the police officer taking Mr Ilesanmi’s Bible away, to his visible distress.

When the preacher asks officers not to take his Bible, one of the officers, who is white, says: “You should’ve thought about that before being racist.” Mr Ilesanmi is black.

Ilesanmi admits that he described Islam as an “aberration” — seemingly the trigger for the racism allegation — but insists he was not denigrating Muslims but merely expressing his perspective as a Christian.

On Sunday, Mr. Ilesanmi told the Mail: “I believe God loves everyone, including Muslims, but I have the right to say I that I don’t agree with Islam – we are living in a Christian country, after all.”

“I was upset when they took away my Bible,” he said. “They just threw it in the police car. They would never have done that if it had been the Qur’an. Whatever happened to freedom of speech?”

The video was taken by Ambrosine Shitrit, who said she was passing by when she saw Mr Ilesanmi debating with a Muslim man.

“The preacher was fearless, but if I hadn’t started filming he would have been attacked,” Ms. Shitrit said. “He was not breaching the peace and in no way had he been Islamophobic. I would’ve been the first person to have said something if he had been.”

In early March, the Metropolitan Police directed its Professional Standards Unit to begin a review of the arrest in the face of extensive criticism.

According to Hounslow-based Sergeant Dave Turtle, this sort of heavy-handed approach to Christians is too familiar, adding that police officers need better training to understand the rights of street preachers.

Turtle called for a “fundamental review” of police training for faith issues since “we’ve had a number of situations across the country where street preachers have been arrested and then de-arrested.”

Observers have noted a strange discordance in that Muslims seem able to preach in London without being harassed by police, whereas Christians are often treated with hostility.

The £2,500 indemnification was awarded as “compensation for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment, aggravated damages for exceptional harm and humiliating and distressing treatment, and recognition for the potential psychological trauma experienced during the arrest,” the Mail reported.

Commenting on the case, Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Despite laws that theoretically support the freedom to preach in public, in practice police officers are quick to silence preachers at the first suggestion that a member of the public is offended.”

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