"Self Defence is No Offence". Photo: Support the Rotheram 12 Facebook page

Landmark victory as ‘Rotherham 12’ found not guilty, but questions need to be answered about South Yorkshire Police’s failings, argues Maz Saleem

It was such great news this week to hear that 10 of the Rotherham 12, in the ‘Self defence is no offence’ campaign, were found not guilty. The 10 Asian men, who defended themselves from far-right extremists after attending an anti-racism protest in Rotherham, were cleared of violent disorder.

The event for which they were charged happened when the Muslim community came together with black, white, trade unionists and socialists to oppose the EDL and Britain First, standing up for the so-called democratic values of this country and opposing the politics of fascism. People involved in a peaceful protest were attending an anti-fascist demonstration organised by the group Unite Against Fascism in Rotherham on 5 September 2015,  a month after the racist murder of 81-year-old Mushin Ahmed in the town.

Demonstrators were attacked and then were imprisoned and charged. Most of the young Pakistani men were young fathers who protected their children and wives from far-right fascists. They had marched under the slogan ‘justice for the victims – don’t let the racists divide us’, when they were brutally attacked.

This is a town where 81 year old Muhsin Ahmed was brutally stamped on and kicked to death on his way to morning prayers by racist thugs. The Nazis had descended on Rotherham more than 20 times, and they had been opposed each time.

Michael Mansfield QC, defending Asif Zaman and Arshad Khan, told the court the town had been besieged by toxic fascist groups and the air was filled with fear. “The fear was not a fantasy,  it was a reality,” he said. “But there comes a point when people have to say to themselves, are we going to be humiliated to the extent that we won’t leave our homes? And is it time to show our respect and solidarity for this elderly man who was stamped to death?”

I spoke to  Abrar Javid  from the Rotherham 12 after the victory and discussed with him how he felt after this horrid ordeal which they should never have been arrested for in the first place. He said:

As a defendant it has been a difficult and emotional 12 months for myself and my family. This whole episode has left us upset, confused and traumatised by the whole experience. My parents have suffered immensely as the reality of a prison sentence for these type of offences became clear. What has troubled me the most in my thoughts late at night, struggling to sleep, is how can the police arrest and charge local men who stood up and defended their families against fascists?

This incident was 2 weeks after the martyrdom of Muhsin Ahmed. Our community was in mourning. A community traumatised, in fear and psychologically scarred over the past two years of constant far right marches radicalising our town. In that context, how could the police charge us for violent disorder? We believe it’s a politically motivated charge due to the background of South Yorkshire Police’s failings and the narrative of Pakistani Muslim men in Rotherham are all somehow complicit.

We believe South Yorkshire Police have been unjust and instead of mending community relations they have deliberately targeted a community to perpetuate the narrative of the far right. But finally, after our campaigning and all those charged being found not guilty, we feel finally justice has been served. The truth has prevailed and the trial exposed the police’s epic failings to not only protect our community but also the intelligence the police had prior to this demonstration regarding a potential attack on Muslim communities is outrageous and we were still charged.

This is a landmark victory but the community requires answers from South Yorkshire Police. To move forward we need drastic change in a dysfunctional police force that has little or no empathy with the Muslim community in Rotherham.

Questions need to be raised over the mishandling of this case. Specifically, why after the demonstration did the police channel the anti-racism protesters down Rotherham’s Wellgate Road, past the William Fry pub, which is a well-known hangout of the far right?

The men outside the pub had shouted racist abuse at the Asian men as they passed. The Chief Inspector Richard Butterworth pretended he did not know the pub was associated with the far-right. As Mansfield said in court, “Everybody knew it, save for one person, save for, apparently, the silver commander,” said Mansfield. “I don’t know what planet he’s been on, but clearly he’s not been on this one.”

I believe that the trial and the prosecution was a collective punishment for the Muslim community daring to challenge the false narrative that they were responsible for criminal behaviour towards young women, which they all denounced.  The failings of  South Yorkshire Police police on this case needs to be addressed as  public confidence in police in Rotherham is at an all time low.

The relentless campaigning of the Rotherham 12 shows that resolutely resisting injustice makes progress possible. In the words of Abrar Javid: “I hope it inspires others never to give up”.

Maz Saleem

Maz Saleem is the daughter of 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem, who was murdered in Birmingham just yards from his house by Ukrainian far-right terrorist Pavlo Lapshyn. Maz is an active campaigner against racism and Islamophobia in Britain.

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