600,000 Signatures And Counting: Should Tommy Robinson Be Released?

Political activist, Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, or more commonly known as Tommy Robinson, has been sentenced to 13 months imprisonment for contempt of court last month.

Robinson was live streaming footage of participants – including defendants – in a criminal trial outside Leeds Crown Court via Facebook; the video reached over 250,000 views. Police were called to the scene where Robinson was filming and arrested the 35-year-old for breaching broadcasting restrictions.

The ex-EDL leader went on a one-hour debate which attempted to disrupt the trial, despite Robinson maintaining that he was ‘reporting’ on the case as a matter of free speech.

Robinson founded the EDL in 2009 with his cousin, Kevin Carroll, as the deputy leader – Photo by Tim Dennell

A quick sentence

Robinson received a suspended sentence as recently as May 2017, for contempt of court over a gang rape in Canterbury. The court judge, Heather Norton, had the following to say on Robinson’s actions: “It is about preserving the integrity of the jury to continue without people being intimidated or being affected by irresponsible and inaccurate ‘reporting’, if that’s what it was”.

With this punishment being so close to the 35-year-old’s actions in Leeds, Robinson was arrested, charged and sentenced within just five hours; he pleaded guilty to the charge in what was a secret sentencing.

The speed and seriousness of the sentencing has led to an uproar of far-right support. Geert Wilder, founder of the Dutch far-right party, Party for Freedom, compared the British judiciary system to that of North Korea:

“The lights of freedom are going out. The authorities are trying to silence us. He [Tommy Robinson] was brought before a judge, and sentenced within five hours. The judge ordered a media ban on his arrest and imprisonment, even forcing British publications to delete their articles about the case.

‘Such measures are common practice in North Korea and Saudi Arabia. It is sad to see how Britain, the cradle of Western democracy and the rule of law, is fast descending into tyranny”.

Geert Wilders leading a march in Rotterdam – Photo by Jan Kranendonk

Surprising support?

Such statements from Wilder are to be expected, however, there is plenty of support in the media with the likes of Morrissey, frontman of the Smith’s, commenting on Robinson’s imprisonment in favour of the former EDL leader: “”I find this compelling, now, because it’s very obvious that Labour or the Tories do not believe in free speech… I mean, look at the shocking treatment of Tommy Robinson.”

This has then been supported by Donald Trump Jnr., who retweeted a Robinson supporter and further commented on the Tweet: “Don’t let America follow in those footsteps.”

This theme continues with an air of sympathy amongst a large portion of the British public. An online petition called, ‘Free Tommy Robinson’, has already received 600,000 signatures.

To put this into comparison, popular petitions such as the UK blocking Donald Trump visiting the UK did not reach the 600,000-mark, whilst major issues such as petitions to debate a vote of no confidence in Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, only received 231,136 signatures.

Jeremy Hunt has received heavy criticism as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care despite being the longest-serving person in this position – Photo from Policy Connect

A fair punishment?

Despite the strong support for Robinson, other parts of the media have remained critical of his actions and countered the far-right’s argument that the 35-year-old is expressing free speech.

Luke Bailey, from the i, has commented on the political activist’s movements as a ‘rally about promoting far-right ideology, not free speech’. Such rhetoric has been supported by Owen Jones, the Guardian, who makes strong ties to Robinson’s actions with hooliganism and extreme politics, rather than promoting free speech:

“He is no martyr to freedom of speech, just a career criminal with a history of mortgage fraud, football hooliganism and assault whose craving for publicity to put a critical court case at risk.”

— Owen Jones, the Guardian

On the other side of the pond, the Washington Post has run features which criticise Donald Trump Jnr’s. remarks after Griffe Witte claimed Robinson was ‘the driving force behind a national movement that seeks to ban Muslim immigration to Britain and advocates tearing down many of the country’s mosques’.

Avik Selk, also of the Washington Post supported these comments by writing a feature on the British judicial system: ‘It’s illegal in Britain to report the details of some trials before they conclude — a long-standing law designed to prevent the news from biasing juries and causing prosecutions to collapse’.

Where these media channels place themselves on the political spectrum is likely to draw such conclusion on Tommy Robison’s arrest.

Nevertheless, his imprisonment has once again challenged the extent of free speech and there is set to be a mass ‘Free Tommy’ protest in London this coming weekend.

Have your say on whether Tommy Robinson was right to be jailed for his actions by taking our poll here.

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