By: sam doak
June 8 2023
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“The news, it’s how we find out what’s happening in the world. It’s how we form our opinions. Opinions based on facts, that’s the key, facts. Facts should be delivered to you by journalists based on the truth.”
At the beginning of his new film, “Silenced,” the far-right activist Tommy Robinson delivers a monologue in which he extols the importance of truthful, factual reporting. Robinson (also known by his legal name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), styles himself as a journalist who upholds these standards, and suggests he has paid dearly for it.
While a casual viewer may be inclined to believe Robinson’s characterization, the claims he makes in "Silenced" have long been debunked. Rather than shedding light on his persecution by a powerful and shadowy establishment, Robinson’s film marks another chapter in an ill-considered crusade that has thus far led to a contempt of court conviction, and bankruptcy.
"Silenced" has been distributed by MICE Media, which describes itself as the “first 'Decentralized Media Network' on the Blockchain.” Pitching their organization as a check against censorship, they sell their offering as an ”Ever-evolving platform free from the grip of censorship and Big Tech corruption” that they envision will become “The leading platform for uncensored + conservative media on the blockchain. Precisely what this entails is unclear, and in practice, relatively little appears to have been produced by MICE Media. To date, "Silenced" is one of only two pieces of content advertised on its site, the other being an upcoming “debate” between Tommy Robinson and Andrew Tate.
Tommy Robinson’s appearance in both of MICE media’s productions to date raises questions about his connections to the organization. Robinson has keenly promoted the group, in recent months telling an audience in Denmark’s Christiansborg Palace that they have the potential to do “what crypto and bitcoin has done to the banks” to the media. Having claimed that he initially met MICE’s founders at an NFT conference, he has sporadically appeared on Twitter spaces held by the group and appears to have had a collection of NFTs created for him by them. Beyond this, the exact nature and extent of any relationship, financial or otherwise, is unclear.
Released on May 25, 2023, the film largely focuses on an incident that took place in the village of Almondbury, West Yorkshire, in 2018. At this time, a video emerged that showed Jamal Hijazi, a fifteen-year-old Syrian refugee, being assaulted by another child. This video went viral when posted on social media, resulting in widespread condemnation for what was widely interpreted as a racially motivated attack.
In 2018, Tommy Robinson was already an established figure on the British far-right with a sizeable following. Initially famous for founding the English Defence League in 2009, over the years, Robinson made a name for himself primarily by campaigning against the presence and influence of Islam in the United Kingdom. His involvement in this case began when he turned to social media to publicly challenge the established narrative concerning Hijazi’s assault.
Addressing his Facebook followers in two now notorious videos, Robinson told his viewers Hijazi was “not innocent” and “violently attacks young English girls in his school.” Baselessely framing the assault as a response to dangerous and threatening behavior, he accused the teenager of beating “a girl black and blue” and threatening to stab a schoolmate.
According to Hijazi and his family, these comments prompted harassment and death threats. Ultimately, they decided to pursue a libel claim against Robinson, which in 2021, resulted in the High Court ruling in Hijazi’s favor. The judge in this case ordered Robinson to pay £100,000 in damages and cover Hijazi’s legal fees. The court also imposed an injunction against Robinson, preventing him from repeating his claims.
An hour and a half in length, "Silenced" recounts the entirety of this saga through Tommy Robinson’s eyes. Shot in the style of a documentary, and largely consisting of extended monologues, the film constitutes a clear attempt on the part of its creator to validate his own behavior.
In Slienced, Robinson paints the incident in Almondbury and its fallout as a “story about how the law is being manipulated and exploited by the far left and Islamists to destroy the lives of anyone who speaks out against the so-called progressive, so-called liberal narrative.” To substantiate this, he relies on testimony from Almondbury residents, which he collects largely through hidden recording devices, in an attempt to convince viewers that his claims concerning Hijazi are true.
Despite the large amount of time and effort Robinson appears to have dedicated to this task, the recordings collected by Robinson are not the smoking gun he appears to believe. While some of the individuals that appear on-screen appear to agree with Robinson’s characterization of Hijazi, these hearsay accounts were disregarded when he attempted to rely on them in court, with the presiding judge noting issues that include Robinson’s “use of leading questions” and “prompting from an unidentified third party.”
Secret recordings aside, in his efforts to sell his narrative Robinson relies heavily on testimony provided by a schoolmate of Hijazi, who claimed he assaulted her with a hockey stick. As with Robinson’s secret recordings, however, this supposed evidence has been tested in court. In his ruling, Justice Nicklin identified inconsistencies in the accounts provided by purported witnesses of this incident and noted that they did not confirm with written records kept by the school. On the testimony shared by these individuals, he concluded, “People can lie for reasons that make no sense; sometimes for no reason at all. I am quite satisfied that the evidence of both Charly Matthews and OTP about the Hockey Stick Incident is false.”
Ultimately, when given the opportunity to prove his assertions in court, Robinson was unsuccessful. In his judgment, Justice Nicklin was unequivocal, stating, “The Defendant took on the burden of proving his allegations to be true. He has failed. In reality, and for the reasons I have explained, his evidence fell woefully short.”
For those familiar with Robinson’s history as a far-right activist and provocateur, the release of "Silenced" may seem unremarkable. He has, after all, released numerous “documentaries” during his time in the public eye. However, "Silenced" is different, as the release of the film invites potential legal jeopardy.
In a follow-up hearing held after Robinson was ordered to pay damages to Hijazi, Justice Nicklin issued an injunction. This measure was intended to prevent Robinson from repeating his allegations, and it carries particular legal weight. The intentional breach of such an order amounts to contempt of court and can be penalized by a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a £2,500 fine.
At this hearing, Robinson reportedly raised the fact that he had by this time already been commissioned to produce a film about Hijazi and told the court, “it will look like you are trying to prevent it, but the film will go out in the United States anyway, so I don’t see the point.” Upon asking Justice Nicklin whether interviews with purported witnesses to the events at issue would constitute a breach of the terms of an injunction, he was told, “Mr Lennon, I’m a judge, I’m not here to give advice to you.”
Ultimately, it is yet to be determined whether Robinson will face legal consequences following the release of "Silenced." For his own part, Robinson has seemed keen to highlight his sticky situation during promotional appearances for the film. Speaking to the conspiracy outlet Ickonic News, he appeared triumphant, gloating, “If they make the decision to imprison me for contempt, the entire world is going to watch this film.”