Three women ‘guilty of terrorism’ for displaying paraglider images at pro-Palestine demo

London Palestine demonstration Oct, 2023. Pic: AA

Three women who displayed images supporting a banned organisation at a pro-Palestine demonstration in London have been found guilty of a terrorism offence.

Heba Alhayek, 29, and Pauline Ankunda, 26, of south London, displayed paraglider imagery on the backs of their shirts during a protest in central London on October 14, 2023.

And Noimutu Taiwo, 27, also of south London, stuck a paraglider picture to a placard she was carrying at the protest.

Paragliders were used by Hamas fighters in launching their attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.

Alhayek (a Palestinian refugee), Ankunda and Taiwo were each found guilty of displaying an article in such a way or such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that they were either members or supporters of a Proscribed Organisation, namely Hamas (contrary to Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000), following a two-day trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

They were each sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge. Alhayek and Ankunda were each ordered to pay £400 in costs. Taiwo won’t have to pay any costs as she is not entitled to benefits due to her immigration status.

But the judge said he had “decided not to punish” the women on the basis that he did not believe they were true Hamas supporters and “emotions” had “run very high” at the time of their offence.

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Giving his verdict, Deputy Senior District Judge Tan Ikram said: “Seven days before the protest, Hamas went into Israel with what was described by the media as paragliders. A reasonable person would have seen and read that.

“I do not find a reasonable person would interpret the image merely as a symbol of freedom. I want to be clear, there’s no evidence that any of these defendants are supporters of Hamas, or were seeking to show support for them.”

Mr Ikram added: “You’ve not hidden the fact you were carrying these images. You crossed the line, but it would have been fair to say that emotions ran very high on this issue. Your lesson has been well learnt. I do not find you were seeking to show any support for Hamas.”

It also emerged in court that the Met police had been alerted to the offence by the pro-Israel Twitter account Harry’s Place. The original “Harry’s Place” post on X had claimed sarcastically: “Hamas sent terrorists on paragliders to a rave in Israel where they massacred the civilians so it’s important to tape images of paragliders to your clothes at a pro Palestine demonstration.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Hayley Sewart, of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “The images that circulated on social media of these women caused widespread outrage. This was a unique case examined in detail by a senior judge, and the case built by officers has led to guilty verdicts.

“In the context of the pro-Palestine protests we have seen in London, we have always been clear that showing support for a terror group is a criminal offence, and anyone who does this faces arrest and prosecution.

Metropolitan Police

“The right to protest is always coupled with a responsibility for those protesting to act lawfully. The Met will pursue anyone suspected of committing criminal offences at protests.”

On the other hand, CAGE International said the terrorism convictions revealed the politicised nature of the UK’s justice system.

“It is beyond doubt that the prosecution and convictions would never have taken place were it not for the lobbying by the right-wing media and interest groups who demanded that the women were punished for expressing solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

“The verdict exposes how counter-terrorism powers operate as a politicised tool to curtail free thought and expression. The case underlines a lopsided reality where supporting a genocide is legitimate but expressing solidarity with those resisting settler colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing amounts to terrorism.

“The conditional discharge offers little solace to the women, as the terrorism conviction will remain, unfairly casting a long shadow on their lives.

Anas Mustapha, head of Public Advocacy at CAGE International, added: “It’s absurd that we can convict individuals of terrorism, despite not being guilty of acts of political violence or support of a proscribed organisation, and even when a judge acknowledges there was no malicious intent.

“It brings into sharp focus how this politicised body of law only exists to preserve an unjust status quo by criminalising opinions and shutting down dissent.”

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