Australia's Right-Wing Have The Tommy Robinson Case So Wrong

Few seem to understand even the basic facts around the case or his arrest.

What you need to know
  • Robinson, a far-right anti-Islam commentator, was arrested last week
  • He has been jailed for 13 months for contempt of court, after filming outside a trial in Leeds
  • Pauline Hanson, George Christensen and others have strongly supported him
  • Few seem to understand why he was arrested

Australia's right-wing politicians, journalists and commentators have been quick to throw their support behind jailed British activist Tommy Robinson, who was imprisoned last week after live-streaming video from outside a Leeds courthouse where a trial was being held.

One Nation has asked for him to be granted asylum in Australia, but it appears few understand even the basic facts around the case or his arrest.

Who is he?

Robinson, a pseudonym for the man born Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon and previously known under two other names, is a British anti-Islam activist.

Founder of the far-right English Defence League, and a former contributor to far-right website The Rebel Media, Robinson has a history of provocative stunts and protests.

He has been arrested and jailed several times including over a fight at a soccer match, a protest on the roof of FIFA headquarters in Zurich, assault at an EDL rally, breaching bail conditions, mortgage fraud, and attempting to enter the United States on someone else's passport.

Robinson was arrested after filming outside a court house in Leeds (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
What did he do this time?

Robinson's latest controversy, which has reportedly landed him in jail for 13 months, is related to contempt of court.

Robinson, like many far-right personalities -- such as the likes of Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec in the United States -- often live-streams video on social media from protests or large public gatherings, and he had been doing so from outside a controversial trial in Leeds last week.

Police arrested Robinson while he was actually still live-streaming online, allegedly for breaching the peace.

During an earlier video, in which he reportedly attempted to film defendants entering the court, Robinson made comments about the case which potentially put the trial at risk, according to a British judge who later convicted Robinson for contempt of court and sentenced him to 13 months jail.

Judge Geoffrey Marson said Robinson's actions could have been "highly prejudicial to the defendants in the trial."

The Guardian reported strict court orders had been placed on the case, in order to prevent media reporting from prejudicing the trial. By attempting to film defendants and making various comments, Robinson had breached those orders, the judge ruled.

He was imprisoned after committing a similar offence in May 2017, where he live-streamed video from another trial and spoke about made comments about the defendants. At the time, he was convicted and placed on a suspended sentence.

Following the arrest, large crowds of Robinson's supporters held protests calling for his release -- some even in Australia.

Australian support

Many Australian right-wing identities have rushed to his defence.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, Coalition MP George Christensen and blogger Mark Latham are among those to offer support to the former EDL leader, with former One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts even suggesting Australia offer him asylum as a refugee.

In one of several Facebook posts on the issue, Christensen, the Nationals MP for Dawson, claimed the media restrictions on the trial in Britain were part of a "cover up".

Hanson said she was going a step further, claiming she would try to meet Robinson in prison while she was in England on an upcoming trip.

One Nation's Queensland leader Steve Dickson, who lost his seat at the recent state election, appeared on Sky News this week to support Robinson. Sky host Paul Murray described Robinson as a "truth-teller" and "compelling", among others, while Dickson claimed Robinson was a "political prisoner".

On his popular 2GB radio show last week, host Ben Fordham called Robinson "fascinating" and said "I've got a lot of respect for this guy's guts."

Other columnists like Chris Kenny (here) and Rowan Dean (here) have shared articles or posts online supporting Robinson, while Latham -- the former Labor leader, turned right-wing firebrand -- called Britain a "police state" following the arrest of "freedom fighter" Robinson.

Various Australian far-right "patriot" groups have also shared support for Robinson online.

It's not about freedom of speech 

Very few, if any, of these overnight Robinson supporters seem to have grasped the actual, very serious, reason he was arrested and convicted.

Britain, similar to Australia, has strong laws around contempt of court, and the possibility for media reporting to prejudice trials. It is one of the most important facets of a fair justice system -- that those deciding criminal cases make fair and impartial decisions, basing their judgement on the facts as they are presented in court, and not influenced by by inaccurate or prejudicial outside sources, such as journalists, commentators or other media personalities.

"This is not about freedom of speech or freedom of the press... It’s about justice and ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly, and ensuring that a jury is not in any way inhibited in carrying out its important function," the judge warned Robinson at his 2017 trial.

It is not about a "cover up", as has been claimed by some. It's about giving a fair trial, which, under western principles of justice, even the worst offender is entitled to.