Johnson unlikely to be prosecuted for hate crime

24th Aug 2018

Hamed Chapman

Former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is unlikely to be prosecuted for committing a hate crime after making contemptible comments about Muslim women who wear a burka [and niqab] despite the possibility he may eventually face disciplinary action from the Conservative Party.

Johnson said that while he was opposed to banning the burka, he believed the garment is “oppressive”.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes,” he wrote in his column for the Daily Telegraph.

He also called on schools and universities to demand any student “looking like a bank robber” remove the burka.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, said that while many have found his Islamophobic remarks offensive in which he compared women in burkas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”, officers had decided that he did not commit an offence.

She said she had spoken to some of her “very experienced officers who deal with a hate crime” and that her “preliminary view having spoken to them is that what Mr Johnson said would not reach the bar for a criminal offence. He did not commit a criminal offence.”

The police and Crown Prosecution Service define a hate crime as “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a person’s disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; or religion or perceived religion; or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation or transgender identity or perceived transgender identity.”.

Speaking on the BBC Asian Network, Dick supported the former Foreign Secretary for “engaging in a legitimate debate” and said she was “proud to police in a liberal democracy in which people have the right to express their opinions.” What Johnson said, “if it is not criminal, is a matter for Mr Johnson and his friends and colleagues and indeed for the Conservative Party.”

There has been an increase in Islamophobic attacks on Muslims wearing the niqab since the Islamophobic comments by Johnson.

In response to the attacks on the Muslim women, Prime Minister’s Spokesman told The Muslim News that “Nobody should be subjected to any form of abuse whether that be physical or verbal abuse for decisions that they choose to make.”

Michael Conroy68 tweeted: “Well done @BorisJohnson my mum’s taxi driver wound his window down and screamed ‘get out the road you ****ing postbox!’ at a Muslim woman in #manchester today. She (my mum) told him to wind his neck in. How about YOU wind YOUR entitled, opportunistic, selfish, racist neck in?”

Despite the extent of revolt and outrage about the former London Mayor’s Islamophobic comments, including from many of his colleagues, not least Prime Minister, Theresa May, the 54-year old Etonian refused to apologise or even respond to what many suggested was a premeditated move.

“We all have to be very careful about the language and terms we use,” May said when questioned. “And some of the terms Boris used describing people’s appearance obviously have offended. So I agree with (Party Chairman) Brandon Lewis [that Mr Johnson should apologise].”

“What’s important is do we believe people should have the right to practise their religion and, in the case of women and the burqa and niqab, to choose how they dress. I believe women should be able to choose how they dress,” she said.

The Tories, have for a couple of years, been under pressure to carry out an independent investigation into the extent of Islamophobia within their party. Lewis has continued to do so but in a tweet, he confirmed that he had asked for former Foreign Secretary to apologise for what he wrote about Muslim women.

Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt, who had worked under Johnson at the Foreign Office, also admitted that he himself “would never” have made such a comment. Speaking on BBC Radio, he agreed that “many people would find (the remarks) offensive.”

Other MPs also put pressure on the idiosyncratic Johnson. Former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, went much further saying that the comments were not just “embarrassing” but that he would leave the Tories if he was elected leader. “If he were to become the leader of the party, I for one wouldn’t be in it. I don’t regard him as a fit and proper person to lead a political party and certainly not the Conservative party,” Grieve told BBC Radio 4.

Labour MP David Lammy said Muslim women are “having their burkas pulled off by thugs in our streets and Boris Johnson’s response is to mock them for ‘looking like letterboxes’. Our pound-shop Donald Trump is fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions.”

Other Tory MPs came in support of Johnson, citing freedom of expression argument. Former International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, said in Newsnight, “I don’t think he should apologise. This is quite an important issue about free speech and it’s got nothing to do with the dreadful events that take place over Enoch Powell and the Rivers of Blood speech.”

However, human rights groups have taken a different view saying Johnson used offensive and intolerant language.

“The effectiveness of our democratic society depends on freedom of expression and the expression of offensive and intolerant opinions is generally not unlawful. Boris Johnson’s use of language in this instance, which risks dehumanising and vilifying Muslim women, is inflammatory and divisive. Political figures should lead by example, conducting debates in a responsible manner and language such as this can inhibit legitimate dialogue,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Many came out in support of Johnson, Comedian Rowan Atkinson wrote to The Times, saying: “As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.”

As recriminations continued to mount, it was reported that Johnson could face an investigation into breaches of the Conservative Party code of conduct. Complaints against him would apparently be reviewed by an independent panel which could refer him to the Party’s board, according to a un-attributable briefing.

The BBC among others quoted an unidentified Party spokesman saying that the code of conduct process is “strictly confidential.” Minimum standards of behaviour expected from anyone representing the Party as an elected or appointed official or office-holder state that they must “lead by example to encourage and foster respect and tolerance” and not “use their position to bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others.”

Additional report by Ahmed J Versi

Johnson unlikely to be prosecuted for hate crime

Change the record, Boris! The normalisation of Islamophobia

 

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