A decision to drop charges against Bahar Mustafa, the Goldsmiths Students Union diversity officer who was due to appear in court for allegedly using the hashtag #killallwhitemen was under review last night.
Early yesterday, Scotland Yard had confirmed that the two charges she faced for sending offensive and threatening messages were being dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service because there was not enough evidence to provide a ‘’realistic prospect’’ of conviction.
But even as supporters of Mustafa, an employee of the Students Union, were celebrating the decision to drop the charges, which had been widely criticised by free speech and feminist campaigners, the CPS said the decision was being reviewed at the request of one complainant, under the Victim’s Right to Review Scheme.
A CPS spokesperson said: “Following the decision to discontinue this case, one of the complainants has now requested a review of this decision under the Victim’s Right to Review Scheme.
“It would not be appropriate to comment further on this case until this process has been completed.”
Mustafa, 28, from Edmonton, was due to appear at Bromley Magistrates Court on Thursday, after being summonsed earlier this month to answer charges under Communications legislation relating to sending a communication conveying a threatening message and with sending a grossly offensive message via a public communication.
She had been expected to plead not guilty and the case was likely to be adjourned to a full hearing. The charges were also criticised as not meeting the required criteria of seriousness set out in the legislation.
Dozens of her supporters, who had started a Facebook campaign and the Twitter hashtag #istandwithbaharmustafa were planning a demonstration outside the court.
Earlier today, Mustafa’s solicitor Mark Schwarz said: “The decision first to prosecute and then to climb down so soon afterwards, made by the CPS headquarters, calls into question their ability to make sensible judgments on delicate issues.’’
The charges had followed controversy earlier this year when Mustafa suggested that white men should not to attend a student union meeting intended for ethnic minority women and non-binary attendees, which led to the disclosure that she had allegedly used the hashtag #killallwhitemen in a tweet. Although it took until October for the summons to be issued, it is not clear when the original complaint was made.
At the time of the original controversy she issued a statement to students saying: “There have been charges laid against me that I am racist and sexist towards white men. I, an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist or sexist towards white men, because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender.
“Therefore, women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system.”
The controversy divided opinion on the Goldsmiths campus. Sara Ahmed, co-convenor of Goldsmiths MA in Gender, Media and Culture, wrote in defence of Mustafa in her blog: ‘’The basis of some feminist humour, whether you wish to justify it or not, is to redeploy stereotypes of feminists. The murderous feminist is one such stereotype. This hashtag (which was certainly not originated by the student being targeted) was an ironic redeployment of that stereotype. Of course the risk of redeploying a stereotype – to expose the fallacy behind it – is that you will encounter the very thing you expose.’’
A petition signed by around 27,000 people which called to remove Mustafa from her position stated ‘students have come forward who do not believe that she can represent the student body.’ The petition described her alleged statement as one that ‘made very public and hateful comments towards a racial subtype and also sexist comments of misandry.’ The petition fell 3 per cent short of the number needed of union members to trigger a poll.
English PEN, the founding centre of the international association of writers told ELL today: ‘’We welcome today’s announcement and we don’t think it should have got as far. The Crown Prosecution Service has very clear guidelines on when to prosecute messages posted on Twitter and Bahar’s tweet #Killallwhitemen, while it’s offensive, didn’t appear to meet the criteria for prosecution as a credible threat. Additionally offensive speech should be protected even if it’s something that we don’t like.’
Jeremy Dein, a leading criminal barrister also told ELL: ‘’The CPS decision today underlined the importance of free speech and how careful the prosecuting authorities have to be in interfering with citizens fundamental right in this respect.’’
It is not clear how long the CPS review of its decision will take. Out of a total of more than 1,600 reviews, only 210 have resulted in u-turns.
8am WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Mustafa did not respond to requests for comment from ELL, but was reported to have told Vice website:
‘I never actually tweeted it – but I don’t condemn it either… It’s an expression of how somebody is feeling, not what they are telling people to do. It isn’t a command. The #KillAllWhiteMen hashtag is something that a lot of people in the feminist community use to express frustration’.
‘[The legal process] was very bizarre. It’s online, it’s social media../The internet can be a horrible place full of misery and perversion, but I don’t think that the state should deal with things that we don’t like on the internet’.
‘Despite the fact that the police failed to present any evidence against me, I was dragged through the justice system, attacked in the press, and bombarded with hate mail and death or rape threats’.
‘I am absolutely for free speech and I think that these people who accuse me have a very misguided understanding of free speech… For many of us, free speech means the right to bring the injustices of the state to the fore so that we can organise against it without fear or intimidation, prison, or death’.
By Tara Dein