Representatives of the Muslim community in Rotherham have asked for the police to ban a march by an anti-Islamic group through Rotherham on Saturday.
The Pegida group, led by English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, is planning a ‘silent walk’ in the town on Saturday afternoon in relation to the town’s child sexual exploitation scandal.
But local councillors, business owners and groups such as British Muslim Youth, the Rotherham Muslim Community Forum and the Rotherham Council of Mosques have written to South Yorkshire Police interim chief constable Dave Jones calling for the demonstration to be stopped.
A joint letter says that following repeated demonstrations by groups such as the EDL and Britain First, as well as the racist murder of Muslim pensioner Mushin Ahmed, there are exceptional circumstances which justify special powers being used to ban the protest.
Pegida representatives say the event ‘will be a peaceful, no-alcohol, silent march of protest’ about ‘the continuing sexual abuse by predatory gangs of Muslim men across England’.
The letter calling for the protest to be banned said groups such as Pegida are coming to the town ‘to spread their racism, hate and bigotry’ instead of helping abuse victims.
It said: “This protest, like all the others before it, will contribute little to the ongoing work to move on, address the past issues and re-build community cohesion in the town.
“Pegida has no contribution to make to this ongoing work and are simply using the horrific events which occurred in Rotherham in the past to spark even more hatred and public order disturbances in the town.”
The letter added that tensions are still high following the murder of Mushin Ahmed in August 2015, in which the 81-year-old pensioner was called a ‘groomer’ before being punched, kicked and stamped on in a racially-motivated attack.
It said: “It is simply too soon after this race murder for local people to tolerate racists and preachers of hatred to come to Rotherham for no other reason, but to stir up racial hatred against Muslims.”
The letter added: “We need the Pegida march to be stopped.
“Its very mention is causing disgust, anxiety and fear, and heightening tension within Rotherham amongst the law-abiding citizens, particularly vulnerable groups within the ethnic communities who are under constant siege from the far-right groups and suspicion from the residents of Rotherham, a situation of extreme torment.
“Our request for the ban is not based on curtailing freedom or liberty. Nothing could be further from the truth. We value the idea of liberty and freedom.
“We believe that special circumstances exist to justify the banning of Pegida marches in Rotherham for a limited period of time.
“Pegida thrives on inciting hatred and violence. A ban is therefore needed in order to prevent serious disorder, and to safeguard the rights of the public to go about their daily business, protecting the safety and welfare of a Muslim community - local businesses, the elderly, vulnerable women, children and other minority groups - that is facing intolerable levels of abuse and violence laced with hatred.”
Anne Marie Waters, from the Pegida group, said the march will be going ahead as planned despite the concerns that have been raised about it and the tension it could create.
She said: “The murder of Mr Ahmed is to be wholly condemned, but we cannot destroy democratic protest because there’s a chance some people could respond with violence. It is the violence that is the problem, not legitimate protest.
“Britain is a democracy and we have a right to express our political views, wherever we choose.”
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said: “We are aware of the concerns raised by members of the local community and will work with them to discuss the specifics of these concerns.
“There are limitations in the circumstances in which some powers can be used but we are considering all available options fully and will reply to the letter directly.”