UK 'anti-Muslim' activist's 'lies' forced Syrian schoolboy ‘to flee’
The trial of a far-right activist who made "libelous" video claims against a teenage Syrian schoolboy living in the UK began in London on Wednesday.
Seventeen-year-old Jamal Hijazi was subjected to death threats and forced to flee his home in Northern England after Tommy Robinson, the founder of the anti-Muslim English Defence League, used Facebook to spread "lies" about him, a British court was told.
Thirty-eight-year-old Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, uploaded two videos to Facebook claiming that Jamal "violently" attacked "young English girls in his school".
Robinson made the claims in the aftermath of a shocking assault on Jamal by other schoolchildren in the playground of the Almondbury School in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, in November 2018.
Jamal and his family, who come from Homs, Syria, fled the brutal conflict in their country and lived in a refugee camp in Lebanon for three years. They were allowed to settle in Huddersfield in October 2016.
At Almondbury School Jamal was subjected to a sustained campaign of bullying by other pupils, which culminated in a horrific attack in November 2018 where he was thrown to the ground by other pupils, who then used a water bottle on him to simulate the "water-boarding" torture technique used by American interrogators against Muslim terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay.
A video of the incident was viewed millions of times on social media and created outrage across the UK. Theresa May, who was the UK's prime minister at the time, condemned the attack.
However, Robinson later made two videos claiming that the incident happened after Jamal had "beat a girl black and blue" and "threatened to stab" another boy at Almondbury School. Jamal denies these allegations.
Catrin Evans, a lawyer representing Jamal told the court that Robinson's videos had "a devastating effect on Jamal and his family" and forced them to move house in 2019. She said that Robinson had made the claims "without any direct knowledge of the events in question".
Robinson's videos containing the allegations about Jamal were accessible "to his million social media followers", according to Evans.
They were "apparently based only on material posted on, and subsequently deleted from, social media", Evans said.
The videos "turned Jamal into the aggressor, and the bully into a righteous white knight", she added.
Jamal said in a written statement that as a result of the videos, he and his family felt unsafe "to even walk to the local shops without receiving verbal abuse with a very real risk of that escalating into physical abuse".
He added that he was unable to sleep for two nights following Robinson's videos and dreamt of being stabbed.
A lawyer told the court that Robinson Robinson is "a well-known extreme-right advocate with convictions for violence, as well as fraud and drug offences".
He is representing himself at the trial and claims that he has "uncovered dozens of accounts of aggressive, abusive and deceitful behaviour" by Jamal, which show that he was "the bully not the victim" in the waterboarding incident.
The trial is expected to conclude on Friday.