Choudary detention ignites social media storm
London - Supporters of radical British Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary have launched an online campaign threatening “revenge” for his detention on charges of supporting Islamic State (ISIS), but opponents fought back accusing the long-time critic of free speech of double standards for arguing he has the right to assert his views.
Choudary, 48, is known for bombastic media appearances during which he has praised the 9/11 hijackers and repeatedly called for the implementation of sharia law. He founded the proscribed al-Muhajiroun group and has described himself as the most hated man in Britain.
Choudary was remanded into custody on August 5th on charges of “inviting support for the Islamic State (ISIS)”, after initially being arrested and remanded on bail in September 2014.
The British-born preacher, who was charged alongside supporter Mohammed Rahman, represented himself in court, appearing dressed in a white robe. When asked to enter a plea, Choudary, who has trained as a solicitor, said: “I plead that [British Prime Minister David] Cameron and the police are guilty and the only people who are innocent are me and Mr Rahman.” Rahman also pleaded not guilty.
Senior District Judge Howard Riddle referred the case to the Crown Court and refused the men bail, remanding them into custody. This is the first time that Choudary has been behind bars. He previously warned, “If they arrest me and put me in prison… I will radicalise everyone in prison.”
The Twitter hashtag #FreeAnjemChoudary was trending several days after Choudary’s arrest, with his supporters and opponents competing to win the online debate. The hashtag was launched by supporters of Choudary to call for his release and included a chilling tweet of a photo of a black Islamic State (ISIS) flag with London’s iconic Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, in the background. “The black days is coming to Britain if it doesnt (sic) release the Muslims,” the accompanying tweet threatened.
According to data compiled by an online analytics company, the hashtag was shared almost 600 times in the first 24 hours after Choudary’s detention, potentially reaching up to 700,000 people. It has been shared thousands of times since then.
While some Twitter users lauded Choudary as a “lion” of Islam, others tried to hijack the campaign and condemn the radical preacher. “Let’s NOT #FreeAnjemChoudary” read one tweet from the username “IS Hunter”.
“If only there was a caliphate where #FreeAnjemChoudary supporters could go and never return?” wrote another Twitter user.
“How come ‘freedom of speech’ is important to Muslims for jihad inciters but not for cartoonists?” asked another, using the hashtag #jesuischarlie alongside #FreeAngemChoudary. Choudary defended the attack on Charlie Hebdo in an open letter entitled People Know the Consequences, which claimed that Muslims do not believe in the concept of the freedom of expression.
Choudary’s arrest comes on the back of a new counter-extremism policy in the United Kingdom, which some fear could limit freedom of religious expression but which others praise as a necessary step to combating radicalisation.
Choudary is a prolific user of Twitter and Facebook and it is believed that the charges against him relate to his calling support for ISIS in Facebook activity between June 29, 2014, and March 6, 2015.
His last tweet before his arrest sums up his belligerent social media activity. “UK PM’s are criminals, today they murder kids with drones & take them from their parents in the past it seems they also raped them” he wrote in reference to alleged child sex abuse scandal by the late former Prime Minister Ted Heath.
An earlier tweet asked followers to pray for him as the Crown Prosecution Service decided whether to formally charge him.
Choudary is next expected to appear at the Old Bailey on August 28th.