‘Koran-burning’ BNP candidate has case against him dropped

Posted Apr 12, 2011 by Andrew John
A British man who faced prosecution for apparently burning a copy of the Koran has had the case against him withdrawn by prosecutors.
Pastor Terry Jones of Florida
Pastor Terry Jones of Florida
Dove World Outreach Centre
Sion Owens is a British National Party (BNP) candidate in the forthcoming elections for the Welsh Assembly. He had been reported to the police by one of Britain’s most respected left-leaning Sunday newspapers, the Observer, two whom a video of the alleged book burning was leaked.
The 41-year-old was charged with a public-order offence last weekend and appeared before magistrates in Swansea, Wales. But he learned that the Crown Prosecution Service was withdrawing the case against him because of insufficient evidence.
Owens was arrested last Friday when police were shown the video.
The BNP is an extreme right-wing party that traditionally opposes immigration. It is opposed by all the mainstream political parties in the UK, but has a presence on some local councils.
The Observer’s decision to report Owens to the police has been questioned by another left-leaning publication, the online magazine Spiked.
Spiked’s Patrick Hayes writes: “Yes, it is apparently now a crime to express your disdain for a certain religious faith in the privacy of your own home. But that’s not the end of it. What makes this case especially odd is that the man in question – Sion Owens – was reported to the police by a broadsheet newspaper that claims to be liberal: the Observer. Since when has it been the job of the respectable, left-leaning press to grass people up to the cops for alleged speech crimes?”
Hayes says that, when Spiked looked further into it, it discovered that there were some disagreements among Observer staff about whether to report the matter, with the crime correspondent in favour of the action but another columnist not so.
However, the Crown Prosecution Service says Owens need be in “no doubt” that investigations into his actions were continuing and that “almost certainly other proceedings will ensue.”
Owens’s solicitor, Rachel Elimelech, said Owens was “pleased” and “very relieved to be released from custody.”
His party has confirmed that Owens will still stand in the Welsh Assembly elections in May.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Daniel Hannan – a Conservative Member of the European Parliament – says that Owens “can’t have failed to notice that a similar stunt has led to a spate of murders in Afghanistan. What Owens was effectively saying was: ‘My right to indulge in this little jape matters more to me than any increased threat to my country’s interests or citizens.’”
The “similar stunt” Hannan refers to is that of Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, who presided over the burning of a Koran in March, having last September threatened to burn one but subsequently desisted, reserving the right to do so in the future.
The burning in March ultimately led to several deaths in Afghanistan, as Muslim extremists decided to go on the rampage. However, some commentators – including Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill – while chiding Jones for being provocative, have upheld his right to free speech and have said that it would be a blow to that very freedom if actions were to be proscribed for fear of upsetting religious sensitivities.
On its own website, the BNP says the original intention was to charge Owens with stirring up racial hatred. “Apparently, however, the police lawyers suddenly realised that neither the Koran nor Islam nor Muslims have any connection with ‘race’, and that a prosecution under the Race Laws would fail automatically.”