The decision to fine a Muslim man £50 (58 euros) for setting fire to poppies at a ceremony to mark Armistice Day has provoked outrage in certain sections of the British press.
Twenty six-year old Emdadur Choudhury (pictured) from Whitechapel, East London set fire to two large replica poppies and chanted slogans such as “British soldiers burn in hell” during a national two-minute silence to remember Britain’s war dead last November. He was found guilty by Woolwich Crown Court of a public order offence and fined £50 and a £15 victim’s charge.
Many newspapers carried the story on their front page, outraged by what they perceive to be the leniency of the punishment.
The main story in The Sun, Britain’s biggest-selling daily, talks of a “vile attack” and “an insult to our war dead.” It cites ‘justice officials’ who say the fine was the lightest possible punishment and compares the case to another man who was ordered to pay £750 in fines and compensation for kicking a Muslim’s car.
The Daily Mail, in its article, says Choudhury “laughed at justice as he was handed a paltry” fine and asks “Why was he just charged with a public order offence?” arguing he could have faced more serious charges such as incitement to racial hatred.
Both newspapers report in the top lines of their articles that Choudhury lives in free council housing and receives nearly £800 per month in state benefits.
War veterans’ associations are also furious with the punishment. Shaun Rusling of the National Gulf War Veterans and Families Association said: “The British public will be disgusted with the lenient sentence. It is one law for them and one law for others. If we set fire to a Koran, there’d be uproar.”
Explaining his decision to find Choudhury guilty, District Judge Howard Riddle said: “If the memory of dead soldiers is publicly insulted at a time and a place where there is likely to be gathered people who have expressly attended to honour these soldiers, then the threat to public order is obvious.”
In what appears to be a reference to the decision to punish Choudhury lightly, Riddle said that “shocking and offending people is sometimes a necessary part of effective protest.”
Choudhury is unrepentant for the act.
After receiving the fine, which he pointed out was only slightly more costly than a parking ticket, he told reporters:
“Protests are about shock and awe, otherwise you won’t get your point through. The real crimes are by soldiers over in Afghanistan. I don’t take any acceptance of the law of this country. I wear it proudly as a badge that I did something for the sake of Allah.”
There are also those, more liberal sections of the press that are criticising the media criticism of the punishment and arguing that Choudhury should not have been charged at all as he was simply exercising his right to freedom of expression.