Palestine group’s race harassment case thrown out of court

Published Date: 08 April 2010

CHARGES of racially aggravated conduct against five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign have been thrown out by a Sheriff.

Around 60 of their supporters burst into applause when Sheriff James Scott delivered his judgement at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today.

Michael Napier, 63; Sofia Macleod, 39; Vanesa Fuertes, 35; Kevin Connor, 40; and Neil Forbes, 55, all of Edinburgh, were charged with having pursued a racially aggravated course of conduct which amounted to harassment of members of the Jerusalem String Quarter as they performed at the International Festival on 29 August, 2008, at Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh.

It was alleged that, while acting together, on five separate occasions, they shouted at the players, made comments about the State of Israel which evinced malice towards them based on their membership or supposed membership of an ethnic group or nationality, disrupted the concert and struggled with security and other staff. Two alternative charges accused them of acting in a racially aggravated manner, causing or intending to cause the members of the quartet alarm and distress.

The case had been continued without plea on a number of occasions.

During legal debate earlier this year, counsel for the accused challenged the relevancy of the charges and claimed that under the European Convention of Human Rights the prosecution represented an unnecessary, illegitimate and disproportionate interference with their freedom of expression, speech and peaceful political protest. The Crown held that the charges were relevant and that the accused’s rights under the Convention were “not unfettered” as the rights of one person might impinge of the rights of another.

It was alleged that during the concert there were shouts of “They are Israeli Army musicians”, “Genocide in Gaza”, “End Genocide in Gaza” and “Boycott Israel”.

Sheriff Scott said it was clear the accused were engaged in political protest against the Israeli State and an organ of that state, the Israeli Army, concerning crimes allegedly committed by the Israeli State and its army in Gaza. The Crown, he said, claimed the accused were acting in concert on five separate occasions. He was unable, he said, to infer the five had been acting in concert and held that the disruptions had been carried out by the five individually in just under an hour during the same performance. Continuation of the prosecution was therefore not proportionate.

The Sheriff also stated that the protesters comments had been clearly directed at the State of Israel and Israeli Army. The State of Israel was not a person and the members of the quartet were not targeted as presumed citizens of Israel, but as presumed members of the Israeli Army. “It seemed to me,” he said “that the procurator fiscal’s attempts to squeeze malice and ill will were rather strained”.

Sheriff Scott added that if persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a state and its army were afraid to name that state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour it would render their rights under the Convention worthless. Their placards, he said, would have to read “Genocide in an unspecified part of the Middle East”, “Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East”.

He said that the prosecution in its present form was unnecessary and, having concluded it was not necessary or proportionate and therefore incompetent it had to be dismissed. He discharged the complaint simpliciter.

Fiscal Depute, Graham Fraser announced that The Crown would be appealing the decision.

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