Petition launched to protect free speech after street preacher's arrest goes viral

Oluwole Ilesanmi was arrested outside Southgate tube station in London

A petition calling for the protection of free speech in Britain has been launched after video footage of a street preacher being arrested went viral.

Oluwole Ilesanmi has since been released and no further action is being taken against him by police but his arrest outside Southgate tube station in London has raised questions about free speech rights. 

He was arrested over a 'breach of the peace' after a member of the public told police that he was making 'Islamophobic' comments. 

The actions of the arresting officers were defended in a statement from the Borough Commander sent to David Burrowes, former MP for Enfield Southgate and co-founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship.

'Officers attempted to speak with the man to explain why they had been called and advised him that he should leave the area. The man refused to leave and a decision was made to arrest him in order to prevent a breach of the peace,' the statement said.

'He was escorted from the area and once it became apparent that he would not return, he was de-arrested. No further action was taken against him.

'I know you are concerned about freedom of expression and you mention your own role in your church. The Met respects and upholds the rights of all individuals to practice freedom of speech,and this includes street preachers of all religions and backgrounds.

'In this instance, officers were responding to a call where a member of the public had raised concerns about his language. If an incident reported to us is perceived as being a potential hate crime, it is only right that we investigate.

'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.'

A complaint made about the police's treatment of Mr Ilesanmi is being investigated by the borough's Professional Standards Unit.  

Despite his arrest, Ilesanmi has vowed to continue street preaching.

Reflecting on his ordeal, he said: 'I was never given the opportunity of spreading the Gospel...the police came on the scene...I was taken out of the vicinity into a very remote place.' 

He continued: 'I was thinking I would not even be able to get back but God raised up for me...people in the streets who could even be of assistance to me and I thank God that I came back and I started preaching again.' 

A petition has been launched by Christian Concern calling for an urgent review after a spate of arrests of street preachers in recent years. 

'Sadly, this is not the first time that Christian street preachers have been arrested in the UK,' the petition reads.

'At the Christian Legal Centre, we have helped many street preachers who have been arrested, and in some cases faced criminal charges. TonyJoshDominicBillRobMikeMichael and AdrianIanDanielDavidStephen and many others have had their names cleared because of our help.

'We are concerned about the actions of some police officers, and we're calling on the UK's Home Secretary to launch an urgent review to ensure that the police are trained to act within the law.'