Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 November 2019

Twitter suspends British 'hate' protester days after the school activist sets up 'primary education' firm

Exclusive: MP who said the school activists have 'religious extremist agenda' receives death threats hours after telling PM he is 'inflaming hatred'

Shakeel Afsar (left) Rosina Afsar and Amir Ahmed (centre) speak to the media outside the Priory Law Courts in Birmingham following a hearing to reconsider an injunction prohibiting anti-LGBT lessons protesters from being in the immediate surroundings of the School.
Shakeel Afsar (left) Rosina Afsar and Amir Ahmed (centre) speak to the media outside the Priory Law Courts in Birmingham following a hearing to reconsider an injunction prohibiting anti-LGBT lessons protesters from being in the immediate surroundings of the School.

One of the lead campaigners behind “aggressive” school protests in the UK over equality teaching issues has had his Twitter account suspended just days after setting up his own educational company.

Shakeel Afsar and fellow protester Amir Ahmed, who have been accused of having “a religious extremist agenda”, set up their own private firm specialising in “primary education” on Monday.

They deny they are planning to create their own independent schools but instead wish to roll out their campaign nationally.

Campaign group Humanists UK said the creation of the company was “alarming”.

On Friday, Twitter took the step of suspending Mr Afsar’s account, saying it was in violation of Twitter rules. It had contained warnings to politicians.

Both men were banned by the courts in June from continually protesting outside a Birmingham school, Anderton Park Primary, over its curriculum and a temporary exclusion zone has been imposed on them. Mr Afsar does not have a child at the school.

The ban was called for by local MP Jess Phillips who had labelled the protesters “12 angry men”.

She previously said: “It is hate preaching. The protest has to be stopped. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the schools. These are people with a religious extremist agenda. They are holding schools under siege.”

In July Mr Afsar had tweeted: “Local cllrs and MPs be WARNED. We will organise ourself (sic) and we will hold you accountable!!!!”

Twitter’s closure of Mr Afsar’s account came on Friday as the authorities stepped up measures to protect MPs.

It followed an attack on Ms Phillips’ constituency office in Birmingham whilst her staff were inside – there is no suggestion Mr Afsar, 32, or Mr Ahmed, 54, are involved in this. Police have arrested a 36-year-old man.

The incident happened a day after Ms Phillips had been part of a heated exchange in the UK Parliament with Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his use of inflammatory language and accused him of “inflaming hatred”.

She had reacted with anger at Mr Johnson’s suggestion that the best way to honour her murdered colleague, MP Jo Cox, who was killed during the EU referendum campaign by a far right extremist, was to "get Brexit done".

Ms Phillips revealed she had been subjected to a number of deaths threats.

On Thursday she tweeted: “@10DowningStreet might think we are “humbugs” about his words but they are literally being used in death threats against me.”

Her office has not responded to The National’s request for comment.

In May, Ms Phillips was filmed by BBC News having an angry confrontation with Mr Afsar, she had told him: “Our equality laws protect us all. I want to protect you, I want to protect the Muslim community ... The worst thing about it is it is damaging the reputation of a peaceful and loving community that I have lived in my entire life.”

The campaign by Mr Afsar and Mr Ahmed has seen parents take hundreds of youngsters out of schools during the protests which are against equality and same sex relationship issues being taught in schools.

Next year a compulsory relationship curriculum is set to be rolled out across the UK, including classes that will reflect the fact some children have same-sex parents. Parents will not have the right to withdraw pupils from these classes.

The National can exclusively reveal that on Monday the two men registered a private company with Companies House called the Family Parents Forum Ltd naming themselves as directors and cited the nature of its business as “primary education”.

Mr Afsar told The National that the company will enable the group to transparently raise funds for its war chest in its legal fight to overturn the injunction at Birmingham’s high court next month. Judges are due to decide if the injunction should be made permanent.

In imposing the interim injunction in May, the judge had said: “Staff members speak of children being “very distressed” by the aggressive nature of the protests, and crying. It is to be recalled that this is a primary school.”

Mr Afsar estimates the legal costs will run to £50,000. So far the group has raised £30,000.

Earlier this month, a crowdfunding site set up by the men on GoFundMe raised £9,500 before it was closed down by the administrator on the grounds it was homophobic and in breach of the site’s protocols.

Launched in June it had said: “Shakeel Afsar needs your help today! Injunction against Anderton Park parents protest - Please help stop the voices of parents being silenced.”

In a bizarre turn, Mr Afsar and Mr Ahmed were pictured in June with anti-Islam activist Katie Hopkins, who once stated "Islam disgusts me" following the 2016 Nice terror attack. She tweeted an image of them together in Mr Afsar's home.

Similar protests have spread across the north of England and Mr Afsar says thousands of parents have joined his campaign nationally.

“The campaign is going strong and we are rolling it out nationally and are taking it all the way to Parliament. We feel we are right in our case and whether we win or lose we will continue to campaign and will take our fight to the European Court of Human Rights," he said.

“I have been labelled homophobic, I’m far from that. People say I’m extremist, I just think Muslim rights should be respected.

“It is legal to be gay in the UK, I understand that, but it is not right our children are being verbally told it is ok.

“They are forcing their views on to our children and it is a strategy to water down the children’s religious values. We have not preached hatred.”

He said that he has appealed against Twitter’s suspension of his account.

“It is not a problem, I’ll just open another one, the same if Facebook shut me down,” he added.

“It is undemocratic. I believe what I am saying is correct. Regardless of what Facebook and Twitter do, I have the public on my side. They are basically just trying to silence us.”

However, Education secretary Damian Hinds has criticised the protests claiming they have been “hijacked by individuals with a vested interest and no links to the schools”.

He has said: “There is no place for protests outside school gates. They can frighten children, intimidate staff and parents. It is time for these protests to stop.”

Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham, of campaign group Humanists UK, has accused them of promoting a “hateful agenda”.

She said: “It is very alarming that these two individuals have registered a company with the intention of providing primary education.

“The protests they have been leading have been promoting a hateful agenda which demeans LGBT people at a time when homophobic hate crimes are on the rise across the UK. While people are entitled to their own personal religious views, it should not give them the right to infringe on other people's rights or deny them equality.

'”The ongoing protests over relationships and sex education in schools across England prove how vital it is that young people not only receive education that keeps them happy, healthy, and safe, but that they are also given the knowledge to challenge harmful views about LGBT people, women, and other marginalised groups in society.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “The Education Secretary has been clear that there is no place for protests outside of schools. It is frightening to children and disrespectful to hard working teachers.

“We are making relationships education compulsory in all primary schools from 2020 – because it is important that children know that there are many types of relationships. However, what is taught and how is ultimately a decision for schools.”

Updated: October 2, 2019 02:31 PM

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