Over a thousand people braved the pouring rain to listen to a diverse range of speakers enthusing over the rights of freedom of speech in Trafalgar Square on Saturday afternoon.
Beneath the column commemorating Lord Nelson’s victory over Napoleon, a diverse group of people representing the far right, communism, green groups and gay rights stood shoulder to shoulder to listen to a range of speakers representing their diverse political views.
The human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group, OutRage!, was reserved the key note speaker position to address a largely peaceful crowd, expelling the contradictions in the beliefs of those attending he said: “As a left-wing Green, committed to human rights and social justice, I do not share the politics of some other speakers and protestors. But this is the whole point of Saturdays’ demo – to defend the free speech of
those with whom we disagree.”
Dr Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat Human Rights spokesman), Keith Porteous Wood (National Secular Society) and Peter Tatchell (OutRage!, the gay rights group)
Reacting to a strong police presence, Mr Tatchell said: “since the police are here I say that every person in the country is entitled to equal protection under the law.” Referring to the death threats that prevented the liberal Islamic cleric Sheikh Dr Muhammad Yusuf from attending the event, he added: “I want to hear from Sir Ian Blair [Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] that he will protect those in his community that suffer death threats.”
Police officers photographed members of the crowd
Dr Evan Harris MP, the Liberal Democrat human rights spokesman, was among others who spoke at the event. Referring to the government defeat in Parliament over the incitement to religious hatred bill by one vote, Dr Harris said: “as the only MP here, I’ll take the credit for that vote.”
During the rally, one man was questioned in relation to a placard showing a copy of the cartoon depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Iranian Reza Moradi, 29, who has lived in London for eight years, was questioned by members of the Metropolitan police. Following the intervention, the Iranian dissident academic, Maryam Namazie interrupted the speakers to display the placard in question to the crowd. Ms Namazie then urged her supporters to “pass the placard along, hand by hand.” Organiser Peter Risdon said: “We are in favour of free speech and not against Muslims. They are our neighbours and our friends.”
Maryam Namazie brandishing a placard containg cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad
Speeches made by members of the Muslim community were vocally interrupted by an elderly woman clutching an icon of the Virgin Mary with child at the front of the crowd who continually shouted “lies” at the speakers. The woman who told PinkNews.co.uk that she was a Catholic nun, Sister Ruth, who was imprisoned in Tunisia for wearing a crucifix believed she was exercising her right to free speech by criticising those of another faith.
A Catholic nun, Sister Ruth who claims to have been imprisoned in Tunisia for wearing a crucifix
Despite police estimates of between 200 and 250 protestors, PinkNews.co.uk reporters spread around the crowd estimated between 600 and 800 protestors and 300 tourists and bystanders listening to speeches made at the rally.