Army parade protesters spoke truth, court told

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The Independent Online

Two Muslim men accused of calling British soldiers murderers, racists and baby killers during a homecoming parade did not set out to offend people but were speaking the truth, they told a court today.

Shajjadar Choudhury, 31, and Munim Abdul, 28, are two of seven defendants charged with public order offences at the parade of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, known as The Poachers, in Luton on March 10 last year.

They and Jalal Ahmed, 21, Yousaf Bashir, 29, Jubair Ahmed, 19, Ziaur Rahman, 32, and Ibrahim Anderson, 32, all from Luton, deny using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress at Luton Magistrates' Court.

During the five-day trial, the court has seen video footage showing the men holding placards branding the soldiers "Butchers of Basra" and had shouted chants including: "British soldiers murderers, British soldiers terrorists", and "shame on you".

But today Abdul told the court they believed they were speaking the truth, so their words could not be offensive.

He was asked by Neil Mercer, defending him: "Did you intend to offend, insult, harass, alarm or distress anyone?"

He replied: "No. We chose our words carefully and selected them in order not to harass, alarm or distress anyone."

He said they had not aimed their words at individual soldiers, but at the British forces in general.

He said: "We are judging the British forces as a whole entity.

"Basically we are saying they are murderers. We mean the whole entity, i.e. the British forces, that they are a murdering entity, and condemning them as a whole, not individually."

Abdul told the court that when he referred to British soldiers as murderers, he meant it literally because they had killed people in what he saw as an illegal war.

He said: "Because the war in the first place is illegal, so subsequently anyone they kill is murder."

He said the phrase "British soldiers, go to hell" reflected his belief that if people commit sins they will be sent to hell rather than paradise.

Abdul told the court he had been part of a similar protest in Luton the previous year, where they had chanted similar things and held similar placards.

He said there had been no arrests and nobody had made official complaints as far as he knew.

He said: "We did not get the hostile crowds like we did last year.

"In fact we were able to engage with the people, with debate and discussion."

But he said the 2009 protest had sparked a very different response compared with the previous year.

"No one was swearing at the previous one and there were no insults or abuse hurled at us, there were no threats to basically beat us up," he said.

"I'm pretty sure there were no swear words or abuse hurled at us."

He said he was aware a meeting had taken place with police to arrange where they would stand and that they had permission to protest.

He said he did not expect anyone to be offended, upset, frightened or threatened by the placards the men carried.

Mr Mercer asked: "Did you think that your placards or the slogans you were shouting might be offensive?"

"If it's the truth, no, and it's the truth," Abdul replied.

He said he did not expect the angry backlash the protesters received from members of the public.

He said: "One old lady, about 70-80 years old, was saying the most offensive things. I don't want to repeat them.

"Basically I said, 'calm down, don't speak like that'. She carried on so I said, 'do you speak like that to your grandchildren'."

He said if police had asked him to move, to stop chanting or to change the words he used, he would have straight away.

Prosecutor Avirup Chaudhuri suggested Abdul used the words to insult and abuse people and was aware that they would have that effect.

But Abdul said he completely disagreed. He said: "If it's the truth then there's no way they would find it upsetting.

"It's like calling a paedophile a paedophile, that's what he is.

"We know this war is illegal and basically we described them accordingly.

"We chose our words selectively in order not to insult. If we wanted to insult we could have said so many other things. We could have gone into a different level, we could have gone to another degree to insult people.

"In our thinking, we felt there should be no reason why anyone should be upset when it's the truth."

Co-defendant Choudhury told the court the protest on March 10 was the first protest he had attended.

He said he had done everything asked by the police when asked and said: "No-one wants to be arrested. We don't want to break the law so we didn't do anything outside it."

He said he thought the use of the word "murderers" was appropriate.

He said: "I wanted to highlight to the world the reality of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The British soldiers, the atrocities they have committed, I wanted to use words which clearly depict the reality over there and I could not think of any words other than those because that was the reality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"That (war) was totally illegal, wrong for them to go into Muslim land, to bomb Muslim women and children indiscriminately.

"I think the war itself was totally unjustified. It caused so much suffering to the Muslims.

"Their pain is my pain, their suffering is my suffering. It hurts me because those people are my brothers."

He said they wanted to chant to spread the word and make people aware.

"I wanted to chant and highlight but at the same time I had in my mind I wanted to address the people, explain to them the reality of my feelings, the suffering of the people over there and to get them to open their eyes.

"To shout to them that the one you consider to be a hero, the ones you support, have been involved in very bad deeds in Muslim countries such as murder, killing."

When asked by the prosecutor why they could not have used leaflets instead of chanting, he answered: "We would never be able to highlight to the world with one leaflet.

"You need to come out to speak out and let the people know, meet with them, discuss with them, debate with them and let them know what is going on over there.

"Those words were specifically chosen to highlight the issues so that we did not offend them at all.

"I don't believe anyone to be offended in that respect."

He said it was not what they were saying that had upset people, but the fact they were protesting at the parade.

"Some of those people there, they know how we are, many times we pass through town and they don't like us to pass through, so they insult us," he told the court.

"I know some of those people who were present there. Our presence is enough for them to be agitated.

"People were upset. They see Muslims coming out together on the day itself to highlight an issue which they support, to highlight atrocities that they support.

"Those that did not like the fact that they were highlighting it, they were upset."

The remaining five defendants chose not to give evidence at the trial.

All seven defendants deny using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

The case continues.