A British legal group has launched a petition which calls on the British government to offer more protection to street preachers. The petition addressed to the British Home Secretary, was drawn up following the outrageous arrest of a Nigerian man on the streets of London.
Oluwole Ilesanmi was detained by the Metropolitan police after he refused to stop heralding the word of God in public. A video of his arrest, which involved an officer snatching Olu’s Bible out of his hand, went viral on social media, prompting widespread outrage.
Are you appalled by the treatment of this street preacher in London? We have launched a global petition calling on the government to do more to protect Christian #streetpreachers in the UK. Please sign and share. @AntisemitismEyehttps://t.co/inCQoAYYKg#FreedomOfSpeech pic.twitter.com/nXBbFxrnjr
— Christian Concern (@CConcern) March 1, 2019
The petition, launched by British anti-persecution watchdog, Christian Concern, urges that “Christian street preachers should be free to share the gospel, even where it means challenging the beliefs of others.”
It continues: “The law rightly protects freedom of speech, even if it offends, shocks or disturbs others. But too often, police officers have shown themselves either to be ignorant of this freedom, or unwilling to uphold it. This leads to a chilling effect, where people are increasingly unwilling to say what they believe, for fear of arrest.”
Watch what street preacher Olu has had to say to everyone who has supported him since his arrest. On Saturday February 23rd while preaching, Olu was unnecessarily arrested, de-arrested and then dropped off in an unfamiliar suburb without enough money to get home. The video of his arrest has gone viral around the world. Our legal team is now supporting him and we will have more updates soon. #StreetPreacher #London #Southgate #FreedomOfSpeech
Posted by Christian Concern on Thursday, February 28, 2019
Andrea Williams, founder and chief executive of Christian Concern told Faithwire that she hoped that the petition would help “protect the freedom of street preachers” by ensuring that police officers only use their powers of arrest when this is absolutely necessary.
“Street preaching in the UK has a long, storied history. Open air preaching is the only way to guarantee that all the public is given the opportunity to respond to the love of Jesus Christ,” Williams told Faithwire. “But despite laws that theoretically support the freedom to preach in public, in practice, police officers are quick to silence preachers after any suggestion (often false) of Islamophobia or homophobia. This is not only unjust, but kills free speech through self-censorship. We want to see police officers protect the freedom of street preachers by only using their powers when truly necessary.”
What actually happened?
In a video of the incident posted to Twitter, officers can be seen forcefully asking the preacher to stop, before arresting him on a rather baffling charge of “breaching the peace.”
“What are you doing here?” the officer asked the preacher, who was heralding the Gospel near Southgate Underground station in London.
“I am preaching,” he simply replied.
“I am going to require you to go away,” the police officer stated.
“Never,” the man responded.
“Well then, then I will arrest you for a breach of peace,” the police said.
“What breach of peace?” asked the Christian man.
“It’s what you’re doing at the moment,” the policeman explained. “You’re causing problems — you’re disturbing people’s days and you’re breaching their peace. If you won’t go away voluntarily, we will have to arrest you.”
“I will not go away, because I need to tell them the truth — because Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life,” the preacher responded.
“But nobody wants to listen to that,” the officer snapped. “They want you to go away.”
At this point, the officer handcuffed the man, before an additional officer snatched his Bible out of his hands.
“Don’t take my Bible away,” the man cried.
“You should have thought about that before being racist!” the officer replied.
Faithwire reached out to the Metropolitan Police for more information surrounding the incident. The police admitted that, despite the officer’s comments accusing the preacher of being “racist,” they have no reason to believe that anything of this nature had been said by the Christian man. They also noted that “no language of this nature was used in the presence of officers.”
“The initial report suggested some Islamophobic language had been used,” the police force told Faithwire. “However nobody has made a formal allegation to this effect and no language of this nature was used in the presence of officers.”
The police added that the man was subsequently “de-arrested” and that “no further action was necessary.”
According to Christian Concern, Olu was “was dropped off in an unfamiliar suburb without enough money to get home” following his shocking arrest.
“Thankfully, a kind member of the public gave him some money, but what did the preacher do next?” the group’s Facebook post added. “He went straight back to Southgate tube station and continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ that same evening.”
What is the law on free speech in the UK?
The United Kingdom’s free speech laws are governed by the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 10, the section that relates to freedom of expression, reads as follows:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
Of course, this comes with responsibility.
As Article 10 states, these freedoms “may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
As such, an arrest made on account of “breaching the peace,” must only be enforced if the police officer is convinced that “a breach of the peace had or would occur” and that “it related to harm which was actually done or likely to be done to a person or, in his/her presence, their property.”
Clearly, these criteria were not met by the behavior exhibited by Olu the street preacher and thus to arrest him on this particular charge was, by all accounts, fundamentally wrong.
We will keep you posted with any updates on this case.