Did Sunday Times mislead over Muslim shoe-throwing case?


10:45 am - April 16th 2010

by Ben White    


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Last week a front-page story appeared in The Sunday Times, reporting that apparently the Metropolitan Police had “bowed to Islamic sensitivities and accepted that Muslims are entitled to throw shoes in ritual protest”.

The incredible claim being made was that police had specifically given the members of one faith group, Muslims, special permission to throw shoes as some kind of “concession”.

A little bit of digging however soon showed the article had some major problems.

First, the focus of The Sunday Times’ piece is one particular prosecution of an individual for violent disorder, following the protest that took place outside the Israeli embassy in January 2009:

Judge Denniss agreed that the act of shoe-throwing should not be considered in a charge of violent disorder against the student because it was “a symbolic” political gesture.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service admitted this weekend that the police advice to the Downing Street protesters was a factor in the case at Isleworth crown court, west London.

But after I contacted the Crown Prosecution Service myself, I was sent this statement by CPS London Borough Crown Prosecutor Jeetinder Sarmotta:

There is no CPS policy that people who throw shoes, rather than other objects, during demonstrations will not be prosecuted. The CPS makes charging decisions based on the totality of the available evidence.

Mr Salim pleaded guilty to violent disorder by throwing a stick but not by throwing a shoe. We were aware that there was a question over whether or not the police had given demonstrators permission to throw shoes by way of a political statement, but the CPS accepted Mr Salim’s guilty plea on the basis that we could not be certain on viewing the CCTV footage whether the item thrown was a shoe or not.

By accepting the guilty plea we considered that the court would be able to impose a sentence that would reflect the criminality of Mr Salim during the demonstration.

The Times article also omits the issue of the CCTV footage. The CPS prosecutor refers to the shoe-throwing purely in the context of the act being “a political statement”. Nothing about ‘Muslims’ or ‘Islamic sensitivities’.

Chris Holt, the defendant’s solicitor, told me of the wider context for the prosecutions of the Gaza protesters, particularly the fact that “a large number of demonstrators, with no criminal history and even after timely guilty pleas, have received custodial penalties of up to eighteen months”. (Newsnight report).

Targeting Muslims
But there is no mention in The Sunday Times article of these numerous custodial sentences handed down to other protesters. This is a point taken up by ‘The Gaza Demonstrators Support Campaign’, in a statement published on their website.

The group says that “rather than ‘bow[ing] to Islamic sensitivities’, the Metropolitan police have done precisely the opposite: targeting for arrest almost exclusively Muslim protesters from amongst the very diverse group who protested outside the Israeli Embassy last year”.

However, returning to the most startling aspect of The Sunday Times’ story, how did the newspaper come to claim that “Scotland Yard” has accepted “Muslims” can throw shoes as a form of protest? There is no doubting the emphasis of the piece. The headline talked of ‘Islamic protestors’, while the article was clear that the “concession” (a term used twice) was to “Muslims” and “Muslim demonstrators”.

Complaint
Musab Younis, a member of the Gaza Demonstrators Support Campaign, says that “the article was not only misleading” but also “dishonest”: the article “states the demonstrations in London against Israel’s attack on Gaza were composed of ‘Muslim demonstrators’, when they were in fact made up of an extraordinarily diverse range of people”.

The demonstration on 3 January 2009, when organizers arranged beforehand with the police for a symbolic shoe-throwing outside Downing Street, was indeed coordinated by a variety of groups, including Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and CND.

Younis added that with “no response” from the newspaper to their objections, “we have no choice but to file a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission in consultation with our solicitors”, while continuing to “urge The Sunday Times to amend the article”.

We probably haven’t heard the last of this story yet.

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About the author
This is a guest article. Ben White is a freelance journalist who has written for Guardian's CIF, Electronic Intifada and others. His book 'Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide' (Pluto Press), was published in 2009.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Media ,Race relations

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Reader comments


>>The headline talked of ‘Islamic protestors’, while the article was clear that the “concession” (a term used twice) was to “Muslims” and “Muslim demonstrators”.<<

For a long time now, there has been one obvious group of people you can dick on without suffering any consequences whatsoever.

The author of the Sunday Times piece is David Leppard … could this be the same David Leppard who employed those paragons of free speech Carter-Ruck to sue Nick Davies for 'Flat Earth News'?

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/stephen-glover-on-the-press-783484.html?cmp=ilc-n

Private Eye might be interested in this story.

Thanks for writing this timely article Ben. As a participant of the demonstration it is disheartening to see the mainstream press distorting the truth of these events in contradiction to what actually happened. Much of the violence which took place was in response to police brutality, as has been proven in recent cases.

3. student activist

Rife islamophobia of the centre/right wing British press rears its ugly head again. Let’s hope the complaint is sucessful!!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  7. James Meadway

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