When JfJfP heard that Avigdor Lieberman was visiting London in May earlier this year, we wanted to be certain got an appropriate welcome. Thanks to some inside information, we were alerted not only to the time of his visit to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, but that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was hosting a reception for him in Hampstead. We felt we ought to participate… the end result was one protestor, Debbie Fink, being arrested and charged using threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause harassment alarm or distress (s.5 public order act 1986) and the second assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duty. Earlier this month, a district judge rejected all the charges.
Around a dozen of us had turned up at the NW3 venue, much to the bemusement of the JNF grandees and the sole diplomatic protection officer on duty. Initially keeping to the side of the road away from the venue, our numbers were swelled by some rather more … active … activists who engaged in such life-threatening protests as declaiming poetry from atop a gatepost (see pic), wearing anti fascist slogans and generally questioning – but not obstructing – the invitees on the propriety of entertaining an elevated thug like Avigdor Lieberman.
Then the police arrived.
Given our numbers and wanting to ensure the protest continued, we explained we were willing to move back to the opposite side of the road. The police insisted that we move further away, down the street. This request we refused, regarding it as unreasonable. Shortly afterwards we all sat down together in order to passively resist the police attempt to move us away.
The police responded by picking up the protesters bodily and removing them to the taped off area. It was this action that Debbie Fink resisted and which led to her arrest. But when the case came to court – with the added charge of assault as well as obstruction – the police were given very short shrift by the examining magistrate who said they had no powers to move the protesters on, particularly not by force. (At no point of the evening did the police cite any legal power under which they could move us on.) In preventing the protesters from exercising their fundamental right to protest, the police had not been acting in the execution of their duty.
Fink’s solicitor, Simon Natas said: “This decision is an important endorsement of free speech. As the District Judge said, the right to protest is fundamental in our democracy. My client was absolutely entitled to express her views to Mr Lieberman and the police should not have interfered with that right.”
Fink, a professional musician, said: “I am pleased that I have been vindicated after several months awaiting trial. I will now be looking into taking action against the police not only for wrongful arrest, but also in respect of injuries sustained on arrest.”