Matthew Offord MP reported to parliament watchdog for “inciting religious hatred”

The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has written to the parliamentary watchdog calling on it to investigate the Conservative MP Matthew Offord for “inciting religious hatred and violence” over the recent Al-Quds Day rally in London.

Offord, who’s the MP for Hendon, has been referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards after he accused the peaceful pro-Palestine rally of showing support for ISIS.

In a letter to the Metropolitan Police before the event Offord said: “The display of Hezbollah, Hamas and Daesh flags causes great distress to many of my constituents and the population as a whole and, in my opinion, is contrary to the Terrorism Act.”

ISIS flags have never been on display at the annual rally since its inception in 1979, although some participants have displayed Hamas and Hezbollah flags.

The IHRC says they believe the MP was “propagating a deliberate lie” in order to smear the peaceful participants of the Al-Quds Day rally and cause damage to the event.

The complaint further states that Offord attended a “provocative and potentially violent counter-demonstration” organised by pro-Zionist groups in which he rubbed shoulders with leaders of the Jewish Defence League UK (JDL) wearing Kahane Chai T-shirts (Kahane Chai is banned in Israel and JDL is banned in the US as a terrorist groups).

Matthew Offord at a rally with leaders of the Jewish Defence League UK (JDL) wearing Kahane Chai T-shirts
Matthew Offord at a rally with leaders of the Jewish Defence League UK (JDL) wearing Kahane Chai T-shirts

IHRC believes that Offord has breached the House of Commons Code of Conduct by “cooperating” with JDL and others in trying to “sabotage and disrupt” the Al-Quds Day rally.

The IHRC said: “This attempt to cause fear and silence us conflicts with fundamental rights afforded in a free democracy. When a Member of Parliament actively seeks to stifle such right then it is clear that he has failed to abide by the Code.

“The Code also requires MPs to exercise integrity and objectivity. It is evident that in conflating a peaceful rally with the terrorists of ISIS, Mr Offord is in breach of this stipulation.”

The IHRC letter states: “In recent months a number of politicians have used the spectre of ISIS to falsely attack and defame individuals and organisations who they oppose. This is a cowardly tactic used by politicians and stirs up hatred. It is critical that such hate filled tactics should not be tolerated in the UK, especially from Members of Parliament”.

The IHRC says that “the rally itself on 3 July the charged, inciteful atmosphere whipped up by Mr Offord and his allies almost spilled over into violence as the pro-Zionist counter demonstrators pushed past police lines towards the Al-Quds Day participants. The police were forced to intervene to push the counter demonstrators back. IHRC has filed a separate complaint to the Metropolitan Police relating to their policing of the event.”

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has written to IHRC to say that they do not believe the complaint is something they can investigate. IHRC said it would appeal their decision as they “do not believe it is in the public interest for a member of parliament to share a platform with a terrorist organisation or spread false information about individuals and organisations.”

The Hezbollah flag
The Hezbollah flag at the Al-Quds March in 2015

In June Offord wrote to the Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan police over reports that Hezbollah flags would be waved at the Al-Quds Day rally on Sunday 3 July.

He argued that doing so would be “contrary to the Section 13 of the Terrorism Act (2000),” despite organisers saying they would not be discouraging the practice as they did not believe it to be illegal.

He said: “I am concerned to learn of the forthcoming Al-Quds Day rally, to be held in London. The display of Hezbollah, Hamas and Daesh [Islamic State] flags causes great distress to many of my constituents and the population as a whole and, in my opinion, is contrary to the Terrorism Act. I will certainly be raising this again with the Metropolitan Police and I hope for a positive response.”

Section 13 of the Terrorism Act (2000) states that it is a criminal offence for people to “wear clothing or carry or display articles in public in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of the proscribed organisation”

Alluding to Hezbollah’s military wing, which is proscribed, and its political wing, which isn’t, a Home Office spokesman said: “The flags for the organisation’s military wings are the same as those of the political wings. Therefore, for it to be an offence, the context and manner in which the flag is displayed must demonstrate that it is specifically in support of the proscribed elements of the group.”

5Pillars asked Matthew Offord about his Daesh flags comment and his presence among leaders of JDL-UK wearing Kahane Chai T-shirts but did not receive a reply.

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