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The Rotherham 12 - Self Defence is No Offence

Hundreds of people joined a mass protest outside Sheffield Crown Court last week at the start of the 'Rotherham 12' trial The 12 Asian men were charged after an incident during a far-right Britain First demonstration in September 2015, and if found guilty they will face lengthy prison sentences.

Their crime was simply to stand up to racial abuse and violence perpetrated by supporters of far right groups.

The 12 men have been charged with Violent Disorder (contrary to section 2(1) of the Public Order Act 1986). In addition to this, one of the defendants has also been charged with carrying an offensive weapon.

Background: In 2014, Rotherham, a city in South Yorkshire, was rocked by the “child-abuse grooming” scandal. Although the perpetrators of these crimes included a small group of Asian men, unfortunately, the whole community have been tarnished and stigmatised. Worst still, far right groups have seized this as an opportunity to parachute into the town to sow divisions and attack ‘multiculturalism’.

That year, the Mirror reported, “White teenage youths prowl Rotherham’s estates, mouthing racist threats, and the market town has become a magnet for right-wing groups such as the English Defence League, Britain First and the British National Party”.

Over the last year the far right have organised over a dozen intimidating demonstrations where “protesters have arrived in their hundreds, many wrapped in England flags and chanting anti-Muslim slogans”.

Faced with this hostility during the demonstrations, the local Asian community lived in fear and were often forced to remain in their homes or close their businesses and community centers.

In August 2015, a Muslim grandfather, Mr. Mushin Ahmed, was killed during a racially motivated assault. His tragic and brutal death spurred the local Asian community to join a counter protest to the far right on 5 September 2015. On that day, a combination of poor policing and far right provocation and violence led to incidents that resulted in the charging of the 12 men.

Critical issues: The trial raises important issues for British society. These include the following:

  • The right to live peacefully without fear of racial attacks. Racist incidents against the Asian community and Islamophobia have spiked in the area since 2014;

  • The right to protest is a right that should be guaranteed and defended in a democratic society. In this case the defendants only joined a counter-demonstration to express their solidarity with Mushin Ahmed, an 81 year old local resident, who was killed on his way to the Mosque;

  • The right to self defence, when facing violence and threats is paramount; this right is fundamental and should apply equally to every citizen in the UK. Given the background to the events and lawful right to self defence, the 12 Asian men should never have been charged in the first place.

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