British authorities have agreed to pay a 64-year-old Nigerian street preacher around $3,000 after wrongfully arresting him and confiscating his Bible in an incident earlier this year.
Oluwole Ilesanmi was arrested while preaching in February outside Southgate Tube station in London, England after someone called the police accusing him of engaging in hate speech, which in the United Kingdom can be considered a crime.
Scotland Yard agreed to compensate Ilesanmi for his wrongful arrest and the treatment he received at the hands of the Metropolitan Police.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which represented Ilesanmi, said in a statement released last Friday that British law should do a better job of respecting the rights of street preachers.
“… despite laws that theoretically support the freedom to preach in public, in practice, police officers are quick to silence preachers at the first suggestion that a member of the public is offended,” stated Williams, as reported by Christian Concern.
“Freedom of speech means that each one of us needs to be able to critique all religions and ideas without immediately being labelled and silenced as offensive. Critiquing ideas is often motivated by love for others and not hate. The result of this also chills free speech through self-censorship.”
For his part, Ilesanmi stated that he was glad “the police have recognised that it was not right to arrest me for preaching from the Bible.”
“It was traumatic being arrested and left many miles from my home. But God was always with me and even though I was left in a place I did not know, I was determined to get back to Southgate and start preaching the gospel again,” he added, as reported by Christian Concern.
“When I came to the UK it was a free Christian country, but now preachers like me are being arrested for speaking the truth. Christians and freedom of speech must be protected, especially by the government and police.”
For their part, the Metropolitan Police have defended their right to investigate potential hate crimes, with spokesperson Neil Billany saying that they respect “the rights of all individuals to practice freedom of speech, and this includes street preachers of all religions and backgrounds.”
“However, if the language someone uses is perceived as being a potential hate crime, it is only right that we investigate,” continued Billany, as reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
“That is the role of the police, even if a decision is subsequently made that their actions are not criminal. In this case, it was deemed appropriate to remove the man from the area.”
In 2017, Ilesanmi was accused of an “Islamophobic" hate crime by police over a sermon he preached in June of that year, which a Muslim and two activists filed complaints against.
Ilesanmi reportedly promoted a link between terrorism and Islam and urged people to convert to Christianity. For his remarks, he was charged by police under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
In December 2017, however, Ilesanmi was acquitted after the case was brought before the Crown Prosecution Services.