Far-right figurehead, Tommy Robinson, jailed after violating suspended sentence for videoing Muslims

The former leader of the far-right group the English Defence League (EDL), Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), has been jailed for thirteen months for breaking contempt of court laws with a Facebook Live video that could prejudice an ongoing trial. The video, which was at one point being viewed by more than ten thousand people, featured defendants entering the court and discussed the case, which is subject to a reporting restriction[1].

Robinson made clear his awareness of the restrictions during the video, and of the danger of him being jailed. He said, “I have to be super careful, you see, because when I was coming to these court cases, part of what the police did was they dawn raided me and they put me on a contempt of court charge, which would mean that I could face prison”[2].

Robinson was arrested outside Leeds Crown Court on Friday 25th May. His sentencing was also originally subject to a reporting restriction to protect the ongoing case, but this was lifted after the judge heard that members of the public and foreign media outlets were publishing inaccurate information on the case. He was already subject to a suspended sentence for committing contempt during a rape trial in Canterbury in May 2017. Three men and a seventeen year old boy were on trial, and subsequently jailed, for raping a sixteen year old girl who had asked them for directions. Robinson’s suspended sentence was handed down to him after he had attempted “to video the Muslim paedophiles” outside the court. The conditions of the sentence were that he would be jailed if he committed the offense again[3].

Speaking at the sentencing, Judge Heather Norton said, “This contempt hearing is not about free speech. This is not about the freedom of the press. This is not about legitimate journalism; this is not about political correctness; this is not about whether one political viewpoint is right or another. It is about justice, and it is about ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly”[4].

Britain First leaders, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, were jailed in March for religiously-aggravated harassment over their actions during the 2017 Canterbury trial, as they filmed and harassed people they incorrectly believed were involved and posted offensive leaflets and shouted racist abuse at a family home[5].

In a similar pattern of behaviour for Robinson, his live-streamed interviews with journalists before the verdict at the Finsbury Park terror trial raised fears the trial would collapse. Prosecutors and the former head of national counter-terror policing said Robinson’s posts had radicalised the terrorist, Darren Osborne. He was permanently banned from Facebook earlier this year for broadcasting his activities on social media[6].

In Britain, under section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and the Contempt of Court Act, any filming and recording of courts and court precincts is illegal[7].

Robinson’s supporters are protesting his imprisonment and the reporting restrictions, claiming that the ‘establishment’ was attempting to silence his views. This support includes Donald Trump Jr sharing a tweet from a Robinson supporter which said, “don’t let America follow in those footsteps”. Foreign politicians, including Dutch opposition leader, Geert Wilders, have also called for his release[8].

Additionally, supporters have set up a petition to free him, which has so far reached almost half a million signatures, a fundraising campaign for his legal fees, and are organising a ‘free Tommy’ protest in Whitehall, London for the 9th June[9].

Since leaving the EDL in 2013, Robinson has remained active in the far-right. He attempted to establish a British branch of the German anti-Islam group Pegida in 2015, and has written for the Canadian right-wing website, Rebel Media. He has since started his own site and has been working with members of the American alt-right and ethno-nationalist Generation Identity movement, the leaders of which were prevented from entering the UK in April. The Home Office said that Martin Sellner, an Austrian activist, and Abel Bodi, a Hungarian, were refused admission to the UK at London Stanstead airport under the European Economic Area (EEA) regulations, which allow the Home Office to refuse entry to those they consider to pose a present, genuine, and sufficiently serious threat to the fundamental interests of society, including to public policy or public security. A Home Office spokesperson said, “When the purpose of someone’s visit to this country is to spread hatred, the Home Office can and will stop them entering Britain. The government upholds free speech but we will not let it be used to excuse detestable views that directly contravene our values. We take the threat from extremism seriously and we will challenge it wherever we see it”[10].

A Hope Not Hate spokesperson said of Sellner’s most recent denial of entry to the UK, “Martin Sellner would have been aware he could have not been let into Britain. It could well have been a publicity stunt. The far right’s current classic trope and mode of operating is to constantly play the underdog and the oppressed. Playing the victim card is part of their strategy”[11].

[1] Dearden, 2018.

[2] Dearden, 2018.

[3] Dearden, 2018; Oppenheim, 2018.

[4] Dearden, 2018.

[5] Dearden, 2018.

[6] Dearden, 2018.

[7] Dearden, 2018.

[8] Dearden, 2018.

[9] Dearden, 2018.

[10] Oppenheim, 2018; Dearden, 2018.

[11] Oppenheim, 2018.

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Dearden, L. (2018) ‘Tommy Robinson jailed after breaking contempt of court laws with Facebook Live video’. [online] 29 May. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/tommy-robinson-jailed-contempt-court-facebook-live-video-stephen-yaxley-lennon-a8374121.html/. [Accessed 29 May 2018].

Oppenheim, M. (2017) ‘Tommy Robinson arrested after ‘trying to film Muslims’ outside court’. [online] 12 May. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/tommy-robinson-arrest-muslims-filming-court-a7733156.html. [Accessed 29 May 2018].

Oppenheim, M. (2018) ‘UK bars anti-Muslim campaigners from entering the country’. [online] 16 May. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/martin-sellner-abel-bodi-uk-entry-anti-muslim-border-blocked-uk-alt-right-a8306736.html. [Accessed 29 May 2018].