Trump backers seize on case of jailed UK far-right activist

US President Donald Trump supporters pose for the camera as they mix with protesters at a rally by supporters of far-right spokesman Tommy Robinson in Trafalgar Square in central London on July 14, 2018, following the jailing of Tommy Robinson for contempt of court. (Niklas Halle'n/AFP)
Updated 21 July 2018
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Trump backers seize on case of jailed UK far-right activist

  • Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, widely known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, was imprisoned for 13 months earlier this year for live-streaming outside a court
  • Conspiracy theories about his case have spread wildly on social media, drawing particular attention in the United States among supporters of the so-called “alt-right”

LONDON: Supporters of US President Donald Trump are taking up the cause of an anti-Islam activist jailed in Britain for contempt of court, raising fears of a far-right revival.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, widely known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, was imprisoned for 13 months earlier this year for live-streaming outside a court in breach of reporting restrictions around a trial.
Robinson is the founder of the English Defense League (EDL), a fringe group protesting perceived threats from Islamic extremism, and he has a string of convictions on charges including assault, fraud and drugs possession.
The name he uses is that of a well-known football hooligan.
Conspiracy theories about his case have spread wildly on social media, drawing particular attention in the United States among supporters of the so-called “alt-right.”
The campaign spread further after Donald Trump Jr, the US president’s son, retweeted a comment about Robinson.
Trump himself drew severe condemnation in November after retweeting three misleading anti-Muslim videos originally posted by Britain First, another far-right group.
Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, defended Robinson on London’s LBC radio last week, reportedly describing him off-mic as “the backbone” of Britain.
The new cause celebre of the populist far-right in Britain even breached diplomatic circles after Sam Brownback, Trump’s envoy for international religious freedom, raised the issue with British ambassador Kim Darroch at a June lunch.
But anti-racism group Hope Not Hate said the notion that Robinson had been wrongly imprisoned was “incorrect and conspiratorial,” calling him a “violent far-right racist.”
Times newspaper columnist Francis Eliott warned that the Robinson case, allied with disillusionment over Brexit and fear of immigration, could create “a far-right revival” — all “powered by alt-right cash.”
Two recent pro-Robinson protests in central London, at which some demonstrators made Nazi salutes, saw violent confrontations with police and counter-demonstrators.
US Republican Congressman Paul Gosar came under heavy criticism for speaking at one of the rallies last Saturday during Trump’s visit to Britain.
“It is inexplicable for a sitting US congressman to speak at, let alone attend a rally for someone responsible for spreading as much hate and bigotry as Tommy Robinson, Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Arizona branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.
Robinson gained notoriety in Britain after the EDL staged demonstrations in 2013 which often ended in clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators.
He was previously jailed for using someone else’s passport to enter the United States, which had refused him entry because of drug offenses, and has a number of other convictions.
In May, Robinson was arrested outside a court in Leeds in northern England and pleaded guilty to the contempt charge.
He was given 10 months in jail and another three months for breaching a suspended sentence for another contempt charge related to a separate case.
Reporting restrictions are imposed in all court proceedings in Britain, and are intended to avoid media reports that could influence the jury.
Raheem Kassam, a former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London and one-time top aide to leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage, told AFP he was working to “internationalize” Robinson’s cause and organize support rallies.
“When the left see an injustice, it rallies an international caucus of people together... and we don’t do that enough on our side,” he said, adding the shift in tactics was “just the start.”
The US-based Middle East Forum — a right-wing think-tank where Kassam is a fellow — is also helping Robinson “legally, diplomatically and politically,” according to its director Gregg Roman.
It has spent tens of thousands of dollars footing the bills for Robinson’s defense and protests — including Gosar’s trip to London.
A spokesman for Hope Not Hate decried the increasing American interest in the case, describing Robinson as “a lightning rod for an international coterie of far-right, anti-Muslim activists and extremists.”
Noting a “clear plan” by alt-right figures like Bannon “to pressure our authorities to ameliorate his sentence,” he added: “These attempts to sway our legal system and the paths of justice must not prevail.”
Robinson is currently appealing his sentence, with a three-judge panel set to rule by the end of the month.


Kosovo votes to create national army over Serb objections

Updated 18 October 2018
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Kosovo votes to create national army over Serb objections

  • Europe’s newest independent state which relies on NATO troops for its protection, voted to set up a 5,000-strong national army
  • The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by 4,000 stationed NATO troops

PRISTINA: Parliament in Kosovo, Europe’s newest independent state which relies on NATO troops for its protection, voted on Thursday to set up a 5,000-strong national army though its Serb minority said the move was illegal.
Serb deputies, backed by Belgrade which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, have blocked any such move in the past saying creation of a national army required a change to the constitution.
But three laws promoted by the Kosovo government and passed by a parliamentary vote on Thursday simply upgraded the mandate of the lightly-armed domestic Kosovo Security Force (KSF) to become a national army — something which the government said did not require any changes to the constitution.
The vote was passed with 98 in favor in the 120-seat parliament, though it was boycotted by the legislature’s 11 Serb deputies. A second vote will be required in the next few days.
“The three laws have one task, to protect the territorial integrity of Kosovo, to protect the citizens of all communities in Kosovo,” Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said before the vote.
The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by 4,000 stationed NATO troops nearly two decades after the end of the war.
NATO moved into the fledgling state in June 1999 following weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency after the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The United States and most of the European Union member states recognize Kosovo. But objections by permanent Security Council members Russia and China which back Serbia in not accepting Kosovo’s statehood prevent it from being a member of the United Nations.
The laws passed said the new army would have 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists. The present KSF security force is a lightly armed, 2,500-strong force trained by NATO and tasked with crisis response, civil protection and ordinance disposal.
NATO says it has no plans to leave the territory just now, but it suggested that any change to the status of the KSF might lead to a reduction in its forces there.
“Any change in the structure, mandate and mission of the Kosovo Security Forces is for the Kosovo authorities to decide,” a NATO official told Reuters in an emailed answer.
“NATO supports the Kosovo Security Force under its current mandate. Should this mandate evolve, the North Atlantic Council will have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement in Kosovo. We cannot predict decisions by the North Atlantic Council.”