The Rebel Media website, where Tommy Robinson used to work, has mounted a petition to “stop the political witch hunt against British troops” after the army launched an investigation into soldiers posing with the right-wing activist for a photo and a video, in which the men could be heard cheering and yelling his name.
According to the petition’s description, which will eventually be delivered to the chief of the defense staff, General Nick Carter, the probe was launched after the Muslim Council of the UK “complained” to the army over the photo.
An Army spokesperson said: “We are aware of a photograph and video of a group of Army personnel on social media and are investigating the circumstances surrounding this. Anyone who is in breach of the Army's values and standards will face administrative action.” pic.twitter.com/6SPPYgZXlo— Miqdaad Versi (@miqdaad) 9 октября 2018 г.
Infuriated by the investigation, the right-wing activist urged people to sign the petition to show that the British public would not tolerate politically motivated persecution of the young men, who had the right to express their own freedom.
“I’ve never been charged or arrested for any racial or religious extremism ever in my life. There are false tags put on me by media and government. So, how can you discipline – not just discipline – but take their phones and investigate them, investigate these young men for having a photo taken, for expressing their own freedom? Do our armed services have a list of who you cannot have your photo taken with?” Robinson launched into a fiery rant in a live Facebook video, claiming that the army had seized the soldiers’ cell phones in a bid to find “forbidden” political ideas.
His remarks came shortly after Miqdaad Versi, spokesman for the Muslim Council, tweeted a statement by Imam Asim Hafiz, an Islamic religious adviser to the armed forces, who said “any form of racism, discrimination or extremis is taken extremely seriously and will be dealt with accordingly.”
Imam Asim Hafiz, Islamic Religious Advisor to the Armed Forces said:— Miqdaad Versi (@miqdaad) 9 октября 2018 г.
“I have been with the Armed Forces for over 10 years and I know that any form of racism, discrimination or extremism is taken extremely seriously and will be dealt with accordingly.
Tommy, for his part, hit back at Versi, saying that the Muslim Council “would do better to look for extremism amongst its own communities.”
“The British Army exists to protect our culture and our freedoms,” he added.
Meanwhile, reacting to the complaints, the army spokesperson issued a statement to say that “[f]ar right ideology is completely at odds with the values and ethos of the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces have robust measures in place to ensure those exhibiting extremist views are neither tolerated nor permitted to serve.”
Following the army’s statement, the Muslim Council said that Robinson “does not represent our armed forces, however much he tries to claim otherwise.”
“He will rile against the very real steps taken to make the military more diverse. He will remain silent on the sacrifices Muslims and others made in the two World Wars. We welcome the swift statement by the Army in disassociating itself from the far-right and we hope that safeguards are put in place to ensure that Islamophobia will have no place in our armed forces,” the statement read.
The former leader of the English Defense League was already on a suspended sentence for contempt of court for using a camera in Canterbury Crown Court in May 2017 during the trial of four suspected rapists; the judge activated a three-month sentence for the previous offense and added 10 months for the new one.
In summer, the Court of Appeal overruled the original findings, stating that the proceedings were “fundamentally flawed,” and Robinson was released from prison on August 1.
Most recently, The Independent cited research, suggesting that his arrest, which sparked a wave of mass protests both in the UK and abroad, boosted global support for Robinson.