“People gassin about the deaths of soldiers! What about the innocent familys who have been brutally killed.. The women who have been raped.. The children who have been sliced up..! Your enemy’s were the Taliban not innocent harmless familys. All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL! THE LOWLIFE F*****N SCUM! gotta problem go cry at your soliders grave & wish him hell because that where he is going..”
This month has seen the prosecution of a Muslim teenager for the above comment, which he is alleged to have posted on his Facebook page on 8 March. Yesterday at court, 19-year-old Azhar Ahmed pleaded Not Guilty to the charge of posting a “grossly offensive” message under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. The initial charge of racially aggravated public order offence has been dropped – as Richard Seymour points out there was absolutely no evidence that the comment was aimed at one racial group.
The test for "grossly offensive" is whether or not the message would cause gross offence to those to whom it relates, who need not be the recipients. Five witnesses are due to be brought forward who will say they were grossly offended by the comment. It is for the court to decide whether Ahmed’s alleged post constitutes criminal conduct, yet some commentators have already equated the prosecution to one of “being brown and disagreeing with the war in Afghanistan”.
For that, I believe, is the central issue here. Would Ahmed have been prosecuted had he not been Muslim or Asian? Has he himself become a victim of racially aggravated prosecution? The key to answering these questions lies in how the authorities will deal with those who have retaliated against Ahmed over the past fortnight. For while the authorities have been busy protecting the online community from Ahmed’s dangerous musings, they have effectively allowed his case to become a rallying point for literally thousands of Islamophobes and racists.
A white British man, Scott McHugh, posted on his Facebook page “Azhar ahmed you sick horrible twisted paki bastard, how can you say that about our soldiers!” McHugh has form and has previously posted racist jokes on his page. Many of McHugh’s friends pitched in with even more offensive and racist comments calling on him to be tortured, hanged, killed by vigilantes, and tied to a tree and shot.
One friend of McHugh’s, Robbie Sampler, sinisterly posted, “He’s nothing he’s gunner die veryy soon”. Sampler later posted “Deserves to keep get blown up lyk them soldiers hoep he gets wots cummin to him” on a special page set up which initially described itself in its About section as “Azhar Ahmed need to be killed for what he wrote on facebook the scum! people like this should not be in our county if their not going to support it! out with the scum!!!” Over 2000 people have liked this page, which despite several reports to Facebook remains open. Most concerning was the fact that Ahmed’s purported postal address and home telephone number were posted by these racists on Facebook and Twitter. Whether or not they were accurate, EDL members are not known to check their facts before engaging in unlawful action.
Sampler also posted on his own Facebook page a rallying call for all those wanting to see that “this scum got what he deserves” to come to yesterday’s court hearing at Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court. The English Defence League and Combined Ex Forces duly organised a demonstration, with more than 100 protestors gathering outside and attempting to catch Ahmed as he left. After the hearing, the mob cut loose from the police and began wreaking havoc in Dewsbury town centre, shouting Islamophobic and racist slogans and looking for Ahmed and his family members. A Press TV report claimed that members of Ahmed’s family were abused and chased by the mob.
I am one of many who, concerned by the rapid escalation of the situation, have reported the above facts to the police over the last week. I was told that there could be no investigation until Ahmed himself reported these incidents, a clearly untenable position. It took the EDL thuggery at the hearing for a Detective Constable to contact me for further information. Only time will tell whether they will investigate thoroughly or not. If they do, I believe they must find the comments of Robbie Sampler and Scott McHugh not just grossly offensive, but racially aggravated incitements to violence and arguably murder.
Will they avoid prosecution because they are not Muslim teenagers, but serving soldiers in the British army?