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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Political fringes of Britain on show as Tommy Robinson and Anjem Choudary hit the headlines

Notorious right-wing activist Robinson and Islamist Choudary’s seemingly symbiotic relationship could continue

Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has his contempt of court charge referred to Britain's Attorney General. Getty
Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has his contempt of court charge referred to Britain's Attorney General. Getty

The right-wing activist known as Tommy Robinson had his case of alleged contempt of court referred to the UK’s Attorney General.

Britain’s most notorious right-wing rabble-rouser, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has recruited influential global extremists to his cause through use of social media. However, his actions on social media are also what brought him to the Old Bailey in London on Tuesday.

Former head of far-right group the English Defence League, Mr Yaxley-Lennon, 35, is facing an allegation that he committed contempt of court by filming people before a criminal trial. The court heard he denied the charge.

“I think it necessary to look at quite a lot of the detail of what Mr Yaxley-Lennon said in the broadcast as to come to the overall picture as to what happened,” Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC said as he announced the referral to Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC.

“I’m satisfied in the light of the issues as they now appear as they emerged from the statement of yesterday, that cross-examination of Mr Yaxley-Lennon is necessary for a proper and thorough examination and resolution of the case that is in the public interest.”

Supporters of Mr Yaxley-Lennon gather outside London's Old Bailey. Getty
Supporters of Mr Yaxley-Lennon gather outside London's Old Bailey. Getty

Mr Yaxley-Lennon, who took to a stage to address the crowd gathered outside the court before Tuesday's hearing, has been released on bail until the Attorney General hearing.

The hearing has not yet been scheduled, but a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office confirmed the case had been referred over. “A law officer will consider all material afresh, and make a decision whether or not to refer Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to the High Court for contempt,” he said.

British legal expert Joshua Rozenberg, who attended the hearing, wrote on Twitter that Mr Robinson’s lawyers were likely to make representations to Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC that the case should go no further. He also provided details of how the case may proceed if granted to do so by Mr Cox.

The judge’s referral comes just days after another controversial man on the opposite fringe of British society, Anjem Choudary, was released from prison last Friday.

He was jailed for five-and-a-half years in 2016 but served only half of his sentence, in line with established British practice.

Mr Choudary, 51, and his banned group Al Muhajiroun has been linked to some of Britain’s most violent terrorists –including London Bridge attacker Khuram Butt, the killers of British soldier Lee Rigby and a host of others.

The hate preacher’s statements and public demonstrations in support of Islamist causes helped to spark a counter-movement of far-right groups, one of which was Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s EDL.

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Read more:

Notorious UK hate preacher Anjem Choudary freed from prison

How to contain the spread of extremism in modern Europe

Far-right exploits upheaval as attacks on Muslims rise

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“Certainly these two figures share a symbiotic – and dangerous – relationship, narcissists promoting hatred and a toxic cocktail of intolerance and division,” a spokesperson for charity Hope Not Hate told The National.

Academics have named this phenomena reciprocal radicalisation. Counter-extremist organisation Hedayah claims it “threatens to not just lead to a breakdown in community cohesion, but a spiral of radicalisation and violence which is difficult to stem”.

As the pair have hit the headlines within a week of each other, commentators are calling for their appearances on television and other media to be curtailed.

“When extremist rhetoric is given exposure or when the press focus on the personalities of extremists, for some vulnerable minds who buy into such polarised views, it emboldens them and makes their world-view seem normalised, said Iman Atta, director of Tell MaMa, a British project to record and measure anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom.

"The focus on Anjem Choudary and Tommy Robinson is not helpful and further builds the world view within some minds that they are standing against authority, further legitimising them.It is a toxic cycle.”

Qari Asim, Imam for Leeds Mosque agrees. In a post on Hope Not Hate’s website, Mr Asim said British people should look to what unites them, not divides them, and implored media platforms not to give a voice to extreme Islamist or extreme far-right narratives.

“Anjem Choudary was given platform by the media, not by Muslims – just as ‘Tommy Robinson’ and his cohorts are currently using mainstream and social media – to promote his hateful agenda.

“The media must avoid the mistakes of the past and stop amplifying the voices of extremists or give them a platform to glorify their bigoted, racist and dehumanising words and actions,” he wrote.