A Conservative local politician in the U.K. has revealed he was arrested at his home earlier this month on suspicion of distributing written material to stir up racial hatred after retweeting a social media post that criticized the police’s treatment of a Christian street preacher.
Cllr Anthony Stevens, a member of Wellingborough Town Council in the English county of Northamptonshire, was questioned by officers at his local police station over allegations of hate crimes and presented with three social media posts published on his personal Twitter account.
Stevens retweeted to a grand total of 76 followers a post that compared the treatment of two religious preachers, a Christian named Oluwole Ilisanmi who was arrested by police in Southgate, London, back in 2019 for suspected Islamophobia, and an unknown Muslim preacher who was allowed to walk free despite shouting expletives and displaying considerable provocation in a confrontation with officers.
Mr. Ilisanmi was subsequently awarded a sum of £2,500 for wrongful arrest.
In another apparently offensive and potentially criminal act, Stevens retweeted a petition calling for the reinstatement of a fellow local councilor, Cllr King Lawal, who was suspended from his local Conservative party for describing pro-LGBT Pride events as “not a virtue but a sin.” Lawal is the only black councilor on the local council and is a staunch Christian.
The post shared by Stevens had the caption: “If you value free speech please sign and share.”
The Christian advocacy group representing Lawal announced last month the politician would “launch legal action after having his life torn apart for sharing one tweet that gave the Christian and biblical position on LGBT Pride events.”
Lastly, police questioned the Conservative politician about a retweet of a video showing a man burning a copy of the Quran, a post that Stevens insists is aligned with his view that such an act remains a citizen’s right “in a free society.”
It is Stevens’ understanding he was reported to the police by a local member of the opposition Labour Party. He is currently out on bail as authorities conduct further investigations.
“It is appalling and bizarre to be brutally arrested for sharing a petition in defending the right to free speech of a fellow councilor,” Stevens told The Telegraph newspaper. “The accusation of racial hatred is ridiculous and insulting. My only crime has been supporting the only black local councilor in Northamptonshire,” he added.
“Defending free speech is not the same thing as agreeing with what has been said, or admiring who is saying this. In a true democratic society, you cannot have people being arrested for a few tweets. We must have debate, we must have the freedom to criticize and offend each other, otherwise, this country is going to swiftly go to pot,” Stevens warned.
In an interview with Talk TV on Tuesday, Stevens recounted how the police had approached his home, which he shares with his wife and three daughters.
“They physically searched me in front of my wife and daughter — my 12-year-old was crying. They took my phone and wallet and said they were escorting me off the premises.
“They mug-shotted me, took my DNA, took my fingerprints,” he said, before explaining how two detective constables took him to an interview room after a few hours in a cell and presented him with accusations of distributing “racially aggravated material.”
Northamptonshire Police confirmed to The Telegraph that police “received a report of a hate crime regarding posts made on social media” on Aug. 2.
“In response, a 50-year-old man was arrested on the morning of Aug. 7 on suspicion of distributing written material to stir up racial hatred. He has been released on bail pending further inquiries,” a spokesperson added.