WINCHESTER, UK, May 1, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In what some are describing as a watershed moment for British freedom of speech rights, Paul Weston, a candidate for the European Parliamentary elections, was arrested on Saturday and charged with uttering racist speech for publicly quoting Winston Churchill’s criticism of Islam.
Weston said that the officers interrupted him mid-speech over his comments that Islam has a harmful effect on economic and individual human development. Standing on the elevated steps of the Guildhall and speaking to passers-by through a megaphone, Weston was quoting Churchill’s 1899 book The River War, describing the then-young army officer’s experiences during the Anglo-Egyptian war in Sudan.
Weston said he had only begun to read the passage from Churchill’s book, which he had not identified as the source, when he was interrupted. He said that although a “small crowd” formed, some of whom objected to his arrest, the entire incident was over within three minutes.
The River War includes many of Churchill’s candid observations of what he believed were the effects of Islam on a society and individuals. “Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live,” it says.
Islam, the quoted passage said, creates “brave and loyal soldiers of the faith,” adding, “but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.”
“No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith,” Churchill wrote.
A statement from the Liberty GB said a woman came out of the Guildhall and asked Weston if he had permission to speak there. When he replied that he did not, the group reports that she replied, “it’s disgusting,” and then called the police.
A Hampshire county police spokesman told the Daily Mail, “A 50-year-old man from Dorset was arrested outside Winchester Guildhall at approximately 2.30 p.m. on Saturday, April 26 after he failed to comply with a section 27 dispersal order.” Officers called to the scene reportedly instructed Mr. Weston to “move on” and arrested him when he refused to comply.
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Weston said that he had been allowed to speak for no more than about three minutes before the woman complained and called police. “Six or seven officers arrived. They talked with the people standing nearby, asking questions about what had happened,” Liberty GB said. The police “had a long discussion” with Weston, “lasting about 40 minutes.”
When police threatened him with arrest, Weston replied that he was a candidate for the EU Parliament in that constituency, and that he had a right to free speech. When he attempted to resume his speech, he said, “I picked up the megaphone again; I think I got about two words out, and that was it.”
Weston added that he knew his action would probably result in his arrest and that he hoped the affair would “raise awareness” of what he believes is the perilous situation for freedom of speech in Britain.
“If it really has come to the point that you can be arrested for saying these words, then don’t tell them who originally said it, and let them prosecute you — arrest you, prosecute you — and just to show the rest of the world how utterly sunk this poor old country of Britain is today,” he said.
After “several hours” in detention, Weston said the dispersal order charge was dropped and police have confirmed with the Daily Mail that he was “rearrested” “on suspicion of religious/racial harassment.”
A charge of a Racially Aggravated Crime, under Section 4 of the Public Order Act, carries a potential prison sentence of two years.
Weston has been released pending his voluntary return to police on May 24. The case is now being presented to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will decide whether to prosecute it. If they do, Weston will be arrested and held to await trial.
The incident highlights ongoing and increasingly urgent criticism of Britain’s Equalities and Public Order laws by experts who say that the law leaves the determination of whether an offense has occurred entirely up to subjective opinions. An offense under various provisions of the Public Order Act can be said to have occurred only when a person feels offended and complains, a standard previously unknown in British legal history.
The Public Order Act was recently amended to remove wording that had resulted in the arrests of several Christian street preachers in recent years, but free speech campaigners have warned that there is still work to be done on the act to prevent civil rights abuses.
Liberty GB describes itself as a “patriotic counter-jihad party for Christian civilisation, Western rights and freedoms, British culture, animal welfare, and capitalism,” and Paul Weston has made the restoration of freedom of speech rights the core principle of his movement.
Regularly accused of “racism” in Britain’s left-dominated mainstream media, Weston and his colleagues have refused to engage the debate based on that framework. Instead they propose a rethinking of political discourse based on culture, not race. They assert that Britain is a deeply Christian nation and must be governed according to Christian moral principles.
The group is heavily critical of the unrestricted immigration policies of the last several British governments, both Conservative and Labour-led. They lament the “hijacking of traditional British culture and institutions by well-organised left-wing progressives,” and assert that Britain’s mainstream media is gripped by an extreme leftist bias. This has combined, they say, to create a climate of social fear and oppression in which those who objected to immigration are still routinely accused of racism and silenced.
The incident has caught the attention of free speech campaigners in the U.S. Former Republican congressman Allen West wrote of his shock that a man could be arrested merely for quoting one of his nation’s own most honored and lionized citizens.
West wrote that he was angered and “deeply concerned” at reading of Mr. Weston’s arrest. “What is happening in Western civilization? There would be no England if not for Sir Winston Churchill, and now repeating his words publicly lands a British citizen in jail? Churchill’s words should be taught in school as a sense of English history and pride, revered — instead there is shame?”
Watch a video of the incident and listen to the full interview here.