The story begins with three young men: Sid, Scott and Mosab. In January 2009, they went on a daily protest in London against the Israeli war on Gaza until the end of the conflict. After the main protest in London streets, the demonstrators decided to express their anger in front of the Israeli Embassy. The police set barriers but the protestors manage to overcome them and reach the embassy. Very keen to gather data on the protestors, the police arrested a large number of protestors among them Sid, Scott and Mosab, three young Muslims. In the end, they were sentenced up to two years in prison. The imprisonment of Muslim protestors was a blatant religious discrimination aimed by the UK police to restrict the political activities of the Muslim community in the UK.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
SOUNDITE [English], Peter Smythe, Chairman at Metropolitan Police Federation: “We have a line to draw. Terrorism is a constant threat. The last few years have difficult for the Muslim community with what happened in New York and what happened in London and because of various events around the world. On occasion there are some demonstrators who are determined on a course of action, whether that action be lawful or not, and it’s the police’s job to stop them. What I do dispute is that any of those confrontations were one sided and that the police were the aggressors.”
Narration: This story begins with three young men; Sid, Scott, and Mosab. In January 2009 they went on a protest, against the Israeli-Gaza War. Within a year they would all be in Prison.
SOUNDITE [English], Mosab al-Ani: “My name is Mosab al-Ani. I am Iraqi. I am English, and I’m British. My parents are from Iraq. I don’t lose my heritage. I know where I’m from, but I also know where I am. I went because of the atrocities that happened in Gaza at the time. Israel were, they were committing illegal war crimes on Gaza. And I felt very emotional, and I was very upset at the fact that Britain had not done anything about it. So the best thing and the most democratic thing to do is to protest.”
Narration: There were protests in London every day from the 29th of December to the end of the 22 day conflict. Organisers claim that over a hundred thousand people attended.
SOUNDITE [English], Mosab al-Ani: “It was brilliant, it as fantastic. People from all different races, of all different backgrounds, all in one place, all for one cause and that was peace. It was fantastic atmosphere. Very peaceful, and I felt proud to be British.”
SOUNDITE [English], Abdu Zenaf: “My brother’s name is Sid Ali Zenaf and he’s my older brother and it’s like we’re really tight. Like most of the things we do is with each other so for example we go gym together and everything else.”
SOUNDITE [English], Zino Bouakkaz, Sid –Ali Zenaf’s Friend: “Sid, Sid is an energetic guy basically. Funny as well. He’s always… He always just loves to be with us, his friends. Me I’m like a brother to him. Every time I come round his house it’s like my house basically. And um, yeh, really he’s a fun fun guy to be with you know he’s always in a good mood with us, always wanting to be you know free – just go outside and have fun, really, that was Sid.”
SOUNDITE [English], Abdu Zenaf: “It was our first protest and we wanted to see how it was, like. Our first experience of a protest. As Muslims we should all fight together, we should all stand up together against a cause like Gaza.”
SOUNDITE [English], Zino Bouakkaz, Sid –Ali Zenaf’s Friend: “For us to be there it felt really really good.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
SOUNDITE [English], Joanna Gilmore, Lecturer in Law, University of Manchester: “These protests weren’t policed in any sort of normal sense. These protests I would suggest were attacked by police and many of the violent confrontations which we saw towards the end of these protests were a direct result of the police tactics we saw at the beginning.”
SOUNDITE [English], Mosab al-Ani: “After the main protest there were plans to demonstrate outside the Israeli embassy. For some bizarre reason the police tried to obstruct us from doing so. On the journey towards the Israeli embassy they directed us toward an under passage. We had no idea why, we asked them ‘Why take us under the under passage, it’s narrow, there are loads of people here’. We charged fiercely three times, hit with batons, women, children, girls were crying, it was a toxic toxic atmosphere. When we get charged we all run back and stamp on each other trying to save ourselves. And we are hit. And then when we think it’s all over they start again within the space of ten seconds. Some people couldn’t even get back up by that time! And when they charged us that third time we were on the floor and they charged us as well we had our legs crossed on the floor, bashing our heads. Everybody was shouting, everybody was running, it was like… it was as if this wasn’t in England. It was somewhere I’d never seen before.”
SOUNDITE [English], Linda McPherson, Scott McPherson’s Mother: “My neighbour two doors down from me who my son actually married, I looked at them… after 9/11 I actually went up to them and went ‘Are you happy, are you happy now?’”
Narration: This is Linda. Her son Scott converted to Islam a few years ago and was also at the demonstration.
SOUNDITE [English], Linda McPherson, Scott McPherson’s Mother: “You know how ignorant is that? My neighbours didn’t do that but that was pure ignorance. You know and I admit that I was ignorant and now she’s my daughter in law, I love her to death and I have the most beautiful grandson. And I have a loving kind, very gentle son, who happens to be Muslim. And I think that if he hadn’t have been that way he would have turned into a proper little toe rag! What my son was saying that the people over there are getting killed. And I’m proud of the fact that he stood up and said that and I will always be proud of my son. Unidentified News reporter: This is the scene in central London tonight, the police out in force, roads sealed off and people trying to reach the Israeli embassy hemmed in, and being kept under tight control. When these protests began the Israelis had not gone into Gaza, and things were already tense enough.”
Narration: From the tunnel, protestors made their way to outside the Israeli embassy. It was here that arrests would be made.
SOUNDITE [English], Joanna Gilmore, Lecturer in Law, University of Manchester: “The police held people in pens for quite a number of hours outside the Israeli embassy up to about 7 or 8 hours on some occasions. In freezing temperatures as well, this was a very cold January.”
SOUNDITE [English], Val Swain, Director, Network for Police Monitoring: “There was a crush. You know, there was a point at which it seemed as though people would get hurt as they were being pushed into that small area. And it seemed the most logical thing to move those barriers out of the way. When people did attempt to move the barriers the police then reacted with huge force. They were using baton strikes quite brutally against the people that were there.”
SOUNDITE [English], Abdu Zenaf: “He actually got hit as well which actually got him kind of angry. He got hit twice onto the floor. He was actually hit down a few times.”
Narration: Sid was then involved in throwing a stick, a barrier, and also kicking a police shield:
SOUNDITE [English], Abdu Zenaf: “Four policemen wrestled him down, handcuffed him, took him to that big truck and just took him away.”
SOUNDITE [English], Seumas Milne, Columnist, The Guardian: “They were targeting them because they wanted to teach the Muslim community a lesson about where the limits are in political activity for the Muslim community in this country and I think it reflects a wider political approach in Britain which is, both by the previous government and I’d assume by this government as well, which is that they want to set clear limits to political activity in the Muslim community because they regard it as in some way connected with terrorism, whereas in fact it’s the very opposite, and also because they are well aware that the Muslim community in this country is a very core part of the active opposition in the Muslim world and particularly in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDITE [English], Val Swain, Director, Network for Police Monitoring: “The police took a decision that they were simply going to round up the entire protest, the entire group that was there. And then having surrounded that area, they moved inwards using their shields again. I mean there are specific tactics that the British police use which are not used elsewhere, or at least not in many other places. And they’re very keen on gathering data – they have an intelligence led approach to policing protest. Which means that they are very very keen to gather a lot of data on who the protesters are, what are their names, what are the political organisations they are part of, what are the aims and objectives, they build up a huge database.”
SOUNDITE [English], Seumas Milne, Columnist, The Guardian: “It will have been seen by the protestors as an attempt to profile them and create records for them which will then be used in the police’s and the security services wider targeting of the Muslim community.”
SOUNDITE [English], Mosab al-Ani: “We were kettle boiled for a good three hours I think. My sister who is diabetic was kettle boiled with us. Hearing her cry asking if I’m OK, she’s OK. Hearing children cry. Friends. I was frustrated I was hurt, I was battered and I had done nothing wrong. I threw one bottle towards the Israeli embassy.”
SOUNDITE [English], Linda McPherson, Scott McPherson’s Mother: “Scott doesn’t like having his photograph taken, I’ve got a few photographs of him when he was like small. This one was taken in the Victorian style, but even then you can see he doesn’t look very happy about having his photo done.”
Narration: Linda’s son Scott was also being kettled.
SOUNDITE [English], Linda McPherson, Scott McPherson’s Mother: “Someone handed him two fireworks that he threw. But I’ve seen worse at football matches. You know I’ve seen people throw fireworks at football matches they don’t get two years.”
SOUNDITE [English], Seumas Milne, Columnist, The Guardian: “I think there’s no doubt that kettling is a completely illegitimate form of policing protest. It prevents people going about their lawful business, it prevents them leaving the demonstration, it’s a form of imprisonment for a short period which is completely out of order. And of course it stimulates and creates a violent response, or can do, from the crowd.”
SOUNDITE [English], Peter Smythe, Chairman at Metropolitan Police Federation: “There is a tactic called containment which is perfectly legitimate in my view, and you cannot let a group of potentially violent – particularly when violence has already occurred – you cannot let a large group of people break away willy nilly in all different directions with no control. So therefore containment is used, to quite literally wear them down, get them tired, and allow them to leave in dribs and drabs peaceably. I’m not saying it’s a tactic that we would want to use all the time but it is a tactic. And the alternatives are teargas, baton rounds, if that’s what people want then, you know. If someone can come up with a better way of policing protest than we’ve got in this country then please tell me what it is cos I don’t know what it is.”
SOUNDITE [English], Joanna Gilmore, Lecturer in Law, University of Manchester: “They then said to people, after a number of hours that you can leave peaceably one by one if you agree to be searched, have your photograph taken and provide us with you name and address and people reluctantly agreed.”
SOUNDITE [English], Seumas Milne, Columnist, The Guardian: “I think the police have reflected in the way they police these demonstrations that wider blurring of the line between terrorism and political activity and I think the police are very sensitive to mood music from the home office and the government as a whole and I think they were picking that up very strongly after all at senior levels there’s a lot of contact between different the police and different government departments over how to treat the – and the security services as well – over how to treat the issue of politicisation of the Muslim community.”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDITE [English], Joanna Gilmore, Lecturer in Law, University of Manchester: “For me the way in which the arrests were carried out is really crucial and really significant and probably one of the most alarming features of these cases.”
Narration: The police arrested 119 people after the demonstrations. This is the story of Yahia Tebani.
SOUNDITE [English], Hamza Tebani: “It was about 4 or 5 in the morning, you know everyone was dead asleep. You know the first thing I opened my eyes you know there’s three big officers on the top of me you know. With their knees, on the top of me you know, with their knees, putting their handcuffs on you know, you know the first thing that got to me head you know was that this could be a dream, my dad was shouting at them you know telling them that my sons are not terrorists you know, they are good family. They broke the door and it was mad, you know. I mean neighbours saw it, now our neighbours they don’t even talk to us. He had the gut to tell us you know that if we went back home we would be treated so badly and we should, you know, thank God you know that this is the British police.”
SOUNDITE [English], Seumas Milne, Columnist, The Guardian:“The police came in force to their family homes at 5 in the morning, kicked down the doors and treated them as though they were terror suspects. And of course there’s no justification whatever for any of that, and I don’t see how the police could conceivably have a legitimate answer. They’re claim at the time was that suspected of having weapons in the house. There was no evidence for that they came up with, and of course no weapons were found. These were protestors, on a legitimate democratic protest, who were treated like terrorism suspects, and their families were terrorised in fact by the police.”
SOUNDITE [English], Peter Smythe, Chairman at Metropolitan Police Federation: “Breaking down doors is a normal police tactic. It happens every morning in different parts of London for different types of crime. Not just Muslim people but all sorts of people will have had their door broken down this very morning I’m sure, all across London. Handcuffing people in a confined space is a normal tactic it’s for safety and security.”
Narration: Scott was arrested much later in a shopping centre in East London. He was taken and questioned by the police.
SOUNDITE [English], Linda McPherson, Scott McPherson’s Mother: “The questions they asked was ‘What do you feel about suicide bombers? What do you think about 7/7? What do you think about 9/11? ‘What the hell has that got to do with what he’d been arrested for.”
Narration: The Crown Prosecution Service pressed charges, and Scott was sentenced to two years in prison.
SOUNDITE [English], Linda McPherson, Scott McPherson’s Mother: “For his young son who as I say is only six months old, it’s hard for him. Hi misses his dad. His dad is going to miss his first steps, his first, his first everything. His first crawling, he’s going to miss all that.”
SOUNDITE [English], Seumas Milne, Columnist, The Guardian: “So of the people who were charged I think 79 were charged and all but two of them were Muslims. So it’s absolutely indisputable that in some way the Muslim protestors were being singled out.”
SOUNDITE [English], Abdu Zenaf: “When he phoned my mum, when he heard that’s it. He told my mum that no one’s coming out, everyone’s is taken, the people in the courtroom, aren’t coming out. And that same thing’s going to happen to me. And he apologised and everything. And that’s it. Last we heard from him.”
Narration: Did Ali was sentenced to two years in prison. That left Mosab.
SOUNDITE [English], Mosab al-Ani: “Well I had my mother and my family on the left, and reporters on the rights, and the judge in front of me. And my hands, you know, I knew it was inevitable that I would be sent to prison. I could not do much but cry. I mean my main concern was my mother. I knew this was something extraordinary and it would be very difficult for her to you know to cope. And I think that’s why I was crying.”
SOUNDITE [English], Dr. Kahlil Al-Ani, Mosab Al-Ani’s Father: “He said to my son, ‘I know you come here to protest peacefully, I know you didn’t cover your face, I know you’re from a good professional family, I know you didn’t plan this, I know you said sorry to the police, I know you have a good character but’… to be honest at that time I thought he would set him free and I was happy smiling. I was happy with the judge. ‘But’ he said after that ‘I want to have a deterrent’”
Narration: Mosab was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
SOUNDITE [English], Seumas Milne, Columnist, The Guardian: “People throwing plastic bottles I have seen on countless demonstrations and events of public disorder in this country – people throwing plastic bottles at the police. And never seen them singled out for arrest, let alone being charged, let along being sent to prison, I mean this is a completely disproportionate response by the police and the courts and can only be seen, and is seen by Muslims in Britain as singling them out not only for special treatment, but also restricting their right to take part in democratic politics - which is a dangerous message. And the explicit singling them out for deterrent sentences, as the judge termed them, seems to me a politicisation of the courts. It’s basically saying not that you will be charged and tried and sentenced for what you’ve actually done as anyone else would be in any normal demonstration, but that this is somehow special, and subject to special legal and judicial constraints.”
SOUNDITE [English], Peter Smythe, Chairman at Metropolitan Police Federation: “I can’t change people’s perceptions, all I can say is this, is that if the police arrested people, that have since been convicted by a court, which would tend to suggest to me that the police were right, if it happens to be that the people at the front at the protest, that the people who were nearest to the police and most visible to the police were the ones seen committing crimes, were young Muslim males, then they were the ones that got arrested. If the ones at the back of the protest were the white middle classes and didn’t get arrested then that’s probably why.”
SOUNDITE [English], Joanna Gilmore, Lecturer in Law, University of Manchester: “All the way through the criminal justice system for example, black people, as an example are more likely to be stopped and searched, they’re more likely to be charged. When they get to the courtroom they are also more likely to get custodial sentences. And that’s the reason why we see a disproportional amount of people from black and ethnic minority groups in prison for example. They are more likely to be given custodial sentences despite no evidence of any increased level of criminality amongst that particular group. So there is concrete evidence in fact that there is institutional racism within the criminal justice system.”
SOUNDITE [English], Dr. Kahlil Al-Ani, Mosab Al-Ani’s Father: “When my son tried to phone me I tried to hide my cry as well. Still now I’m crying to be honest.”
SOUNDITE [English],Mosab al-Ani: “Prison. Everybody breaks down in prison. I’ve broken down in prison. I have cried in prison because you think about your family. You can’t help but think about your past.”
SOUNDITE [English], Dr. Kahlil Al-Ani, Mosab Al-Ani’s Father: “You know in hospital I usually… they call me you have a smiley face always but the nurse told me ‘what happened to you Dr al-Ani; you’re not smiling anymore’. Of course… my smile has gone.”
SOUNDITE [English], Joanna Gilmore, Lecturer in Law, University of Manchester: “The vast majority of people won’t attend a demonstration again. I think that’s a tragedy really and I think again, it’s one of the most disturbing implications of these cases.”
SOUNDITE [English], Zino Bouakkaz, Sid –Ali Zenaf’s Friend: “The reason Sid is in jail is because… is to put out a message to the Muslim people not to have a protest again.”
SOUNDITE [English], Abdu Zenaf: “I wanted to go on the anti-fascist protest but my parents didn’t let me because of what happened to my brother and they didn’t want me to be in the same position as my brother is right now.”
SOUNDITE [English], Mosab al-Ani: “It’s a good question, I would say no. But I don’t want this deterrent to really hinder people’s rights to protest. So the question is will the police… will the police still continue their brutal onslaught on the protestors and if so I wouldn’t risk it.”
SOUNDITE [English], Dr. Kahlil Al-Ani, Mosab Al-Ani’s Father: “I will not send Mosab and my other daughters to protest again because in my situation I don’t think we are… I cannot really… my family will not be able to stand another trauma… insult or trauma. So even my daughter Mariam who used to be politically active and go to every demonstration she said ‘no dad I will not demonstrate again. I do not think if anything happened you will stand any other trauma.”
SOUNDITE [English], Peter Smythe, Chairman at Metropolitan Police Federation: “We have to be realistic here. Protest in this country is among the most peaceable protest anywhere in the world. It has the least interference from police anywhere in Europe or certainly… if you look at some of the footage we’ve seen recently from places in Asia – protest is completely different there with baton rams, gunfire. We don’t have that.”
SOUNDITE [English], Dr. Kahlil Al-Ani, Mosab Al-Ani’s Father: “But here is a British young man put in prison for one year for throwing a single bottle on the Israeli embassy on the gate. This bottle didn’t harm anybody but a judge put him in a prison for a year destroying his future and destroying my family. I leave it to the public to decide.”