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Guest Article by Steve Chan
Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, London, has been the place for public oratory and free speech since the mid 1800’s. Historic figures such as Karl Marx, Lenin, George Orwell, Marcus Garvey and Lord Soper have all spoken at the Corner.
250 years ago Speakers’ Corner began life, at that time as a place for public execution with criminals hung from the Tyburn Gallows. Those condemned to die at Tyburn were permitted to make one final speech before their execution. Following huge demonstrations by the Reform League, the Parks Regulation Act of 1872 established the legal status of Speakers’ Corner as a public speaking and meeting place – a milestone in the fight for freedom of expression and assembly, and the origin of its worldwide reputation as the home of free speech.
However, in recent times the dynamic of the Corner has altered. The variety of speakers has diminished and religion has taken over. A small number of Christian speakers remain, but now the Corner is dominated by Muslims. They of course bring new stories and arguments to listen to, but the atmosphere has changed. Freedom of thought, the freedom to challenge, to argue, even ridicule has diminished.
Fights now break out almost every week. If not a physical fight, you hear threats, intimidating and aggressive behaviour throughout the day. Those who dare challenge, dispute, satirise or ridicule them or their beliefs are faced with a barrage of aggression – both verbal and too frequently physical.
People have been spat at, pushed off ladders, punched, kicked and even chased out of the park. They are branded as hate preachers, racists, white supremacists and of course “Islamophobes”.
And why, simply for utilising their right of free speech in the home of free speech? To challenge, argue even satirise and ridicule the beliefs of someone else. The very things that have been going on in the Corner for 250 years, the basis that this Corner and our culture have been proud of. Whether it has been against the Christians, the Sikhs, the Jews, Marxists or Vegans. They all seem to have been able to take it over the years, to come to Speakers Corner in the full knowledge that those who air their views or beliefs will be challenged, sometimes quite venomously and cruelly.
Some notable key figures have played a significant part in this increase in violence and intimidation. Most cannot currently be named for legal reasons. The police assure us that they are on top of the problem, closely monitoring many of the individuals and taking action wherever appropriate. However, the wheels of justice can be painfully slow.
One flashpoint earlier this year occurred on Sunday 18 March 2018, the day Tommy Robinson visited the Corner to deliver the speech of Martin Sellner, an Austrian who had been banned from entering the UK to deliver this speech. The Muslim gang who seek to control the corner saw this as an invasion of “their patch” and quite literally prepared their battle lines to defend this. Before Robinson had even arrived they were pitching their battle lines against the Patriots who had arrived to hear Robinson. Two significant moments of extreme violence were caught on the numerous cameras filming the melee.
Omar Mohamad (on right) standing with known Anjem Choudary associate Abdul Hakim
One involved an elderly Muslim thug who has been a regular visitor at the Corner for a number of years, who goes by the name of “Uncle Omar”. His actual name is Omar Mohamad, 62 from Reading. He regularly spits his vile hate towards anyone who speaks out against Islam. His racist views are particularly well known, regularly calling BME people “baboons” and “house niggers”. On the 18 March, as the battle line of Muslim thugs approached the visitors, Omar lashed out towards them with his walking stick, striking a Police Officer, Sergeant Guy Rooney, directly in the face. The force of the blow bloodied Sergeant Rooney and left severe bruising on his face. Omar was immediately arrested, but subsequently released on bail. No conditions were attached to his bail, and he has been subsequently attending the Corner on an almost weekly basis, gloating about both his freedom and innocence. His court case was finally held on Tuesday 12 June 2018. During the case, City of London Magistrate Richard Blake said:
“I have had the advantage of seeing what took place.
“There is no dispute that Sergeant Guy Rooney did receive this injury and he gave a graphic and moving account of what happened that day and the effect it continues to have on him.
“The question is whether you are acting in self-defence.
“When you lashed out with that stick it was with the intention to cause harm and injury to the person there. I find you guilty of the offence.’
Omar was convicted of assault causing Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and bailed ahead of sentencing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday 15 June 2018. Hopefully his sentencing will include a very lengthy ban from Speakers Corner.
Abdul Hamid, sometimes referred to as the ‘Muslim Flump’ with his knitted woollen hat.
The second involved another regular, Abdul Hamid. Hamid has been attending the Corner for many years and has been observed to have an increasingly violent nature. He was allegedly seen on 18 March 2018 to have grabbed a flag pole from an opponent which he then allegedly used to beat people with. Though witnessed by many and caught on video, Hamid was not arrested at the time. He has however subsequently been arrested, charged and bailed. The terms of his bail have included not visiting Speakers Corner until his case is heard in court. We await the verdict of his case.
There has certainly been violence at the Corner before during its history. But this is now happening on a weekly and increasing basis, on the basis of attempting to silence those who oppose or ridicule one specific view. Peaceful Muslims are of course welcome at Speakers Corner, to come and share their thoughts and beliefs, but to expect and accept the challenges, ridicule and satire they may face.
A number of regular attendees at Speakers Corner are well known for their violence, intimidation and extreme radical Islamic views. No doubt a number of them will be part of the many thousands who the British authorities currently have under active surveillance.