Monday, 15 March 2010


Sent to jail for throwing a single bottle
The Guardian
13 March 2010

Last year, during protests against the attack on Gaza, a mixed group of demonstrators clashed with police. But when the alleged culprits were arrested in dawn raids, nearly all those taken were young Muslims

Badi Tebani and his wife were sleeping peacefully when all
hell broke loose. He shudders at the memory. The front door
was forced open, and then came the screaming. "Wah, wah,
wah, get down, get down, you are under arrest." Any number
of voices. He thought it was a nightmare – that he was back
in Algeria in the bad old days before he was granted
political asylum in Britain, and that the military had
broken into the house. When he opened his eyes, his bedroom
was full of police officers. "I have diabetes and high
blood pressure," he says quietly. "It was worse than
Algeria, even. I became very depressed."

It was 5am, April 2009. Badi's eldest son Hamza, 23, takes
up the story. "I woke up and tried to get out of bed. The
next thing is three police officers jump on top of me with
their knees, and they handcuffed me so hard I screamed.
That's when I really woke up." Hamza had been sleeping in
shorts. When he asked if he could put a shirt on the police
said no and opened the window. "It was freezing. I was

His three brothers, the youngest of whom was 15 at the
time, were also handcuffed. Hamza says there were too many
officers to count – somewhere between 20 and 30. They took
computers, clothes, iPhones, everything. "I've never been
in trouble, never been to the police station except when my
car was broken into, and they were treating me as a
criminal. One of the officers was playing card games with
my iPhone, another was just ordering coffee."

Badi, an Arabic teacher, tuts. "They make our house into a
coffee shop."

But it wasn't Badi or Hamza the police were after. It was
Yahia, one of Hamza's younger brothers. When Yahia heard
that the police were looking for him he was confounded. "I
didn't know why they were there, and then I hear my name
and I'm shocked."

Three months earlier, in January last year, Yahia had been
outside the Israeli embassy on a fractious demonstration
against Israel's sustained bombing of Gaza. The British
foreign secretary, David Milliband, had condemned the
"unacceptable" loss of life caused by the Israeli strikes
on Gaza, saying the "dark and dangerous" events could fuel
extremism, and had called for an immediate ceasefire from
both Israel and Hamas.

Protesters complained that the demonstration was policed
provocatively and that they had been "kettled" inside a
tunnel and beaten. Meanwhile, the police complained that
they had been assaulted by demonstrators.

Yahia, 18, says both accounts are true. He claims that the
policing was aggressive and intimidatory, and that
demonstrators responded by throwing sticks and bottles at
the embassy and the officers, who were wearing full-body
shields. Yahia picked up a few sticks from discarded
banners and flung them in the direction of the police. He
was one of approximately 50,000 demonstrators, many of whom
threw objects. It was a mixed bunch – white and black,
Muslim and Christian, Stop the War Coalition, CND, all
sorts. This was one of a number of Gaza demonstrations
covered on television news, and it was reported there had
been some trouble – but nothing on the scale of, say, the
G20 protests or the poll tax riots.

Yahia, who was studying media technology at Kingston
University, had gone on the march for two reasons – to
protest, and to interview fellow demonstrators for a
project on Gaza. The crowd was held by the police for four
hours and eventually released. Some people were filmed and
had to give their name and address to the police, some were
arrested. Yahia simply left of his own accord, and
eventually got home at midnight.

He told Hamza it had been a difficult day, it had given him
plenty of food for thought, and that was that – until the
police broke into the family home in Finsbury Park, north
London, three months later. Yahia was arrested in March and
charged with violent disorder and burglary – at one point
during the demo, he says, he had taken a chair from the
nearby Starbucks to sit on, but police reports said the
Starbucks was trashed and mugs and chairs were used as
weapons. He was advised that the burglary charge would be
dropped if he pleaded guilty to violent disorder, for which
he would probably receive a suspended sentence or community
service. He thought a lesser charge of affray would have
been fairer, but agreed to the compromise. "It would always
look bad in the future if it says burglary. People won't
know what really happened, so I couldn't risk that being on
my file."

What Yahia didn't realise was nearly all the protesters who
pleaded guilty to violent disorder would end up receiving
immediate prison sentences. His friend Sidali is serving
two years. Yahia was in court the day Sidali was sentenced.
"He didn't even throw sticks," he claims. "He just pushed
or something, and his clothes were ripped a bit. In court
he was crying. The shock on his face, I've never seen
anything like that. Pah!" He blows his lips together in

Yahia is to be sentenced this month. How's he feeling?
"Stressed. Pah. Just waiting to go in. I've been asking my
friend what it's like. He says time goes quick – he doesn't
want to scare me."

It's not just the prospect of prison that terrifies him,
it's what comes after. "If I've got 'ex-prisoner' on my
file, how am I going to get a job? It will destroy my

At Isleworth crown court in London, where the cases are
being heard, a disturbing pattern is emerging. Most of the
78 protesters charged with public order offences were young
men in their late teens or 20s. Many were students. And
nearly all were Muslim. Some 22 protesters have already
received prison terms of up to two and a half years for
public order offences, and more cases are due to come
before the courts in the coming months.

The Gaza Protesters Defence Campaign has been formed by the
families of some of those arrested, together with
sympathetic MPs, the Stop the War Coalition and CND. The
campaign aims to highlight the perceived injustice, and has
launched a petition which will be presented to the attorney
general and the director of public prosecutions.

Earlier this month, families queued up outside committee
room 15 in the House of Commons for a campaign meeting.
Many feel bewildered by the sentences the courts have
passed on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.
When Joanna Gilmore, a researcher at the University of
Manchester's law school who has monitored the cases, gets
to her feet the room is already full, and latecomers are
forced to listen from the corridor. "The vast majority of
the people involved here are of exemplary character," she
says, to mutters of approval. "The demonstrations were
overwhelmingly peaceful and if you compare the relatively
minor disturbances that took place with the violence on
other demonstrations these sentences are very severe."

Gilmore, who has followed all the court cases, says the
police arrested more people at the Gaza protests than at
any political demonstration since the poll tax riots, when
about 90 were charged with public order offences. At last
year's G20 demonstrations, during which a branch of the
Royal Bank of Scotland was looted, 20 were charged.

"Many were on their first demonstration and were protesting
because they were appalled about what was happening in
Gaza," Gilmore says. "These people and their families are
in shock and say that they will never take part in
political demonstrations again."

Bruce Kent, a former general secretary of CND and long-time
peace activist, gets to his feet to address the packed
meeting. Kent, 80, had been on the demonstration and says
he was "amazed and indignant" about the reaction of the
police and the courts.

"I don't know why there isn't absolute outrage … All this
will do is solidify in people's minds the idea that there
is a persecution of Muslims which is determined and
organised and will result in some young people being

He says there is a huge discrepancy in the way different
people are treated by the law, and recalls a time in 1986
when he had been convicted of criminal damage after cutting
a wire fence during a protest at a nuclear base. "I was in
the crown court waiting with my toothbrush packed. I
thought I was off to one of her majesty's holiday camps.
Not at all, not even a fine. Why? Because I am middle-class
and white."

Like Yahia Tebani, 24-year-old Ashir was in bed when the
police raided her west London flat at 4am. The strange
thing is, she says, her brother, who is due to be sentenced
for his part in the demonstrations this month, has never
been interested in "politics or religion" and only joined
the protest because he was at his cousins' house when they
decided to go.

Although Ashir says her younger sibling did not throw any
missiles, she admits he did protect himself when the
"police people started fighting". He left as soon as he
could, giving his details to officers. Two months later the
police made their unannounced visit.

"We heard a disturbance at the neighbour's flat first and I
heard loads of banging and shouting," she says. "I looked
out of the window but no one had police uniforms on so I
didn't know what was happening. A few minutes later when we
were getting back into bed we heard people running up the
stairs and then our door burst open. I was so scared
because I had no idea what was happening or who these
people were."

Every detail chimes with Yahia's experience – the family
were handcuffed for two and a half hours, Ashir only had
her nightclothes on and was not allowed to get dressed and
her computer was taken. "They said I may have weapons in
the house, but I didn't understand – what weapons could I
have? I am not a criminal. They went through everything.
They said they were looking for evidence, for clothes that
my brother had been wearing on the demonstration. They took
my laptop which had my university dissertation on spa
tourism on it because they said he had had access to it. I
asked if I could at least email the dissertation to myself
but they said I wasn't allowed to touch it. I still have
not got it back almost a year later even though I keep
asking for it. I had to start my dissertation from where I
had last saved it on a uni computer."

Ashir, who does not want to give her real name because she
fears going public might result in her brother being given
a bigger sentence, still has panic attacks about what
happened that night. "I am scared if I see any police
anywhere. Even if I was angry about something I would never
go on a demonstration now because I have seen what can

Muhammad Sawalha, president of the British Muslim
Initiative anti-racist group, has two questions: why were
such a high proportion of those arrested Muslim, and why
have they been dealt with so heavy-handedly?

Actually, Judge John Denniss has been quite clear about
sentencing policy. He has said, more than once, the
draconian sentences are meant to act as a deterrent to
future protesters. But, because of the fact that the people
being brought before the courts are disproportionately
Muslim, Sawalha says, the consequences could be disastrous:
"The British Muslim Initiative encourages Muslims to
express their feelings and ambitions and frustrations only
through political and legal processes. But if anything
sends the message that Muslims cannot express themselves
through political processes, and they will not be dealt
with like others, it will give more strength to the fringes
within the community who say democracy and the political
system doesn't apply to Muslims in this country. This will
only increase the frustration and sense of alienation among
these people."

Dr Khalil al-Ani says his son Mosab was one of the lucky
ones. There was no pre-dawn raid, no handcuffs, no
ransacking. He was simply asked to surrender his passport
to the police. Months after throwing an empty Orangina
bottle – the police said it was at them, Mosab said it was
at the Israeli embassy gates – he was charged. Mosab, who
was on a medical access course, hoped to be a dentist or
dental technician. He is now in prison serving a one-year

It was the first demonstration Mosab had been on since his
family marched against the Iraq war in 2003. Al-Ani, an
Iraqi who works as a GP in Wakefield and Leeds, was pleased
his son would be on the march. His two sisters were also
going, and Al-Ani felt Mosab, then 20, would protect them.

Mosab was arrested on the day and taken to a police station
where he admitted throwing the bottle, apologised, and
stressed that he had not aimed it at the police. He was
released and returned to Yorkshire, but didn't tell his
father what had happened – he didn't want to worry him, and
he assumed it was the last he would hear of it.

"He didn't think it was serious because how many times have
you seen something like this or more serious, and nothing
happens." Al-Ani stops, and apologises for his tears. "I'm
sorry I get so emotional. I came to this country in 1981.
You can hear by the way I speak my accent is not purely
British. It is a foreign accent after all these years. But
Mosab was born here in 1988 – he is British in every sense.
This is the first time I feel that because he's a Muslim
he's been discriminated against. What he did was certainly
wrong, but he should be treated similar to a British
citizen. He's gone to prison for a single bottle that
didn't hurt anybody."

The astonishing thing is, he says, that the judge gave
Mosab a flawless character reference. "He said, 'I know you
came here peacefully, I know you have an excellent
character, I know you were not armed, you said sorry to the
police.'" He was sure his son would go free. "I was so
pleased. Then the judge says, 'I'm going to give you this
sentence to deter other people.'"

Back in north London, Badi Tebani is looking at the door
the police forced open. As they left the house, they made a
point of telling him it was still in one piece. "When they
finished their work, the police officers show me the door
and say, 'It's not broken, look, look,' and they took a
photograph. I told him, it doesn't matter if you broke the
door, you broke my life."


Anonymous said...

maybe years of Muslims violence made all police forces in the world worried whenever young Muslims are involved in different demonstrations...?? have u ever thought about that? some are Innocent... but some are not. in blogs of their friends they are all innocents

Sukant Chandan said...

these kids did some stupid things, but they did it to oppose war crimes faciliated by the USA and Europe against Gaza. Who is the guilty party in this context. Have you ever thought about that and moved away from your warped 'blame the victim' mentality?

Annie (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East) said...

The police should be worried, they are part of an oppressive imperialist system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But oppression breeds resistance, and in fact this resistance is the only hope we have to change our world for the better.

We need to stand 100% in solidarity with these brave demonstrators. By standing in solidarity with them we are also standing in solidarity with the people of Palestine. The state wants to scare us and stop us from resisting their global oppression. In response we need to do everything we can to show our solidarity with those imprisoned and demand their release.

There are 5 Cuban men, who are prisoners of imperialism in the United States, who were arrested for trying to PREVENT terrorism. They are called the 5 heros in their country, every child knows who they are. And this beautiful solidarity they have received helps keep them strong while they are unjustly imprisoned. We need to take the Cubans example, because our young people are also prisoners of imperialism. They are political prisoners and we have to work hard to ensure that every young person knows who they are and knows that their imprisonment was not in vain. Most people don't choose to be brave, they have no choice. These young people were targeted by a racist police system - we can't change that. But we can make the state regret their actions.

In Newcastle, like in every British city, asylum seekers are regularly arrested in dawn raids, they experience a similar trauma to that described so well in this article. Tyneside Community Action for Refugees knows that we can't stop the dawn raids from happening but we CAN stop them happening silently, we can rip off the mask of democracy that the Labour Government tries to wear. Each time one of our members are snatched we demonstrate outside the government offices and invite local journalists. The majority of our members have since been released from detention, only a few deported. We need to achieve the same political consequences in the case of the Gaza protesters. It will take hard work and determination but it can be done. And while we campaign for our brothers and sisters here in Britain we can also campaign for the young people arrested daily in Palestine.

I will be reading out this article at the picket of Marks and Spencers in Newcastle this evening, the biggest British corporate sponsor of Israel as my first step in joining the Gaza Demonstrators Support Campaign.

Globalise the intifada!
End British support for Israel!

Anonymous said...

Maybe if you didnt cry "victimhood" on the slightest pretext, people would have more respect for you?

Maybe if Mohammad didnt rape so many women, that Islam was instead respected?

Maybe if you Islamists had real jobs and helped society people wouldn't hate you???

Sukant Chandan said...

lol - another silly minded person. grow up and get over your colonial and racist nonsense and try to deal with people on a level of human decency.