LONDON: The UK government has no plans to endow police with new powers to arrest people for using the word “jihad” in relation to pro-Palestine protests.
The expression has caused controversy after protestors were filmed chanting it at a demonstration in central London on Saturday.
The Metropolitan Police stated on social media that specialist officers had determined no criminal offense had occurred. However, Home Secretary Suella Braverman met with police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, during which she challenged him on that assertion.
The word has several meanings, including “struggle” or “effort” in a spiritual context, but can also be employed to mean holy war.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, the group that organized the protest in question, said on its website that its demonstration was a response to the “brutal oppression” of the Palestinian people by Israel.
“The word (jihad) has a number of meanings, but we know the public will most commonly associate it with terrorism,” the Met said.
“Specialist officers have assessed the video and have not identified any offenses arising from the specific clip. We have also sought advice from specialist Crown Prosecution Service lawyers, who have reached the same conclusion.
“However, recognizing the way language like this will be interpreted by the public and the divisive impact it will have, officers identified the man involved and spoke to him to discourage any repeat of similar chanting.”
A source close to the home secretary claimed: “There can be no place for incitement to hatred or violence on Britain’s streets and, as the home secretary has made clear, the police are urged to crack down on anyone breaking the law.”
This was echoed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who suggested the government should address “gaps in the law” that allow people to use the expression to incite hate or violence.
“There’s been a huge increase in hate crime in the last couple of weeks, tragically,” added Sir Keir. “We’ve all got a duty to clamp down on hate crime whatever political party we’re in.
“Obviously, the police are independent operationally, so these are decisions for them.
“I think there have already been identified some gaps in the law in a previous review under this government, and I think the government needs to look at whether there are gaps in the law that need to be addressed as well,” he said.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper also described the footage of the use of the word at the protest as “disturbing” in an interview with Sky News and urged the Met to use “the full force of the law.”
However, a spokesperson for the prime minister said he was “not aware” of any government plans to do so.
On Sunday, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick told Sky that prosecutions were “an operational matter” for the police and CPS.
The Jewish Community Security Trust organization, though, said the Met had given the “impression of legitimizing obnoxious and hateful behavior” to protestors.