Court gives Syrian right to challenge anti-refugee march

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A Syrian refugee has won High Court permission to legally challenge the Parades Commission over a Belfast city centre march against those fleeing the war-torn country.

The man was granted leave to seek to judicial review the determination it reached on the Protestant Coalition-organised rally planned for tomorrow (Saturday).

A judge ruled he has established an arguable case that insufficient conditions were imposed on the anti-refugee demonstration.

Allegations that the impact of the march on Muslims and city centre shoppers were not properly considered are also to go to a full hearing.

However, Mr Justice Deeny denied interim relief to stop tomorrow’s march from going ahead.

He instead emphasised: “The organisers are obliged to refrain from using words which could be perceived to be sectarian, and making claims about the Prophet Muhammad of the sort in some of these Facebook pages would be clearly sectarian and might be considered provocative, insulting or threatening.”

Emergency legal action was brought on behalf of the refugee, who was granted anonymity amid fears he could be at risk if his identity was revealed.

The Court heard the demonstration is to show opposition to an “open door immigration policy”.

It was claimed that Facebook comments and banners being prepared for the march could incite a breach of the peace or religious hatred.

Barrister Stephen McQuitty, for the refugee, contended: “Clearly the Protestant Coalition doesn’t believe in freedom of religion, they want Muslims out of the UK.”

Ruling on the challenge, the judge stressed the legal right to freedom of expression - even when that involves controversial comment.

However, he held that the conditions imposed on the march were arguably not sufficient.

Dealing with the planned route into Belfast City Hall, Mr Justice Deeny pointed out that the decision to take in refugees had nothing to do with the council.

“It might well be if they want to parade they should parade to the nearest organ of the Government of the United Kingdom which has taken a role in this policy,” he suggested.

He added that the demonstration’s location and timing - when families are carrying out Christmas shopping - should arguably not have been allowed.

Granting leave to apply for a judicial review, the judge stressed: “I’m doing so on the basis that leave is a low threshold.

“It does not mean the court has reached any concluded view on the matter, it means there is an arguable case the Commission has erred for one or more of these reasons in its decision with regard to this parade.”

The case will now proceed to a full hearing in March next year.