A transgender refugee who carried a placard that said “Israel burn in hell” at a pro-Palestine rally claimed it had been “picked up from a bench” and she did not understand it because it was written in English.
Laura Davis, 22, pleaded guilty through an Arabic interpreter to a charge of having caused racially, religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress by words or writing when she appeared at Westminster magistrates court in London on Friday.
Davis, of Barnet, north London, was charged after being spotted waving the placard at the protest in response to the Israel Hamas war in central London on Oct 28.
She displayed a sign that was “threatening or abusive in the hearing of sight of a person likely to have caused harassment, alarm or distress and the offence was racially aggravated,” the charge said.
Davis told the court she had picked up the placard at a bus stop and did not realise what it said.
She was part of a breakaway protest group and had been seen on CCTV carrying a placard that read “FREE PALESTINE!! ISRA*L BURN IN HELL”, police said.
Nicholas Tarry, chairman of the magistrates’ bench, told Davis the message on the placard “is not an appropriate thing to be waving; it’s violent language about another country and it is not allowed”.
Davis fled her home in Saudi Arabia in December 2021 because she was not accepted as a transgender person. She was granted asylum in the summer.
Mr Tarry, who ordered Davis to pay £225 comprising a £100 fine, £40 victim surcharge and £85 costs, told her: “You have come to this country for tolerance.
“You deserve tolerance and other people do as well. You must show other people the tolerance you expect them to show you. Do you understand?”
Davis nodded quietly as she stood in the dock.
The central London protest took place as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators rallied in cities across Europe, the Middle East and Asia to show support for Palestinians as Israel’s military widened its air and ground offensive in Gaza.
Davis attended the rally “with good intentions” but, in “an impulsive action”, carried the sign after finding it at the bus stop, Nicola White, her defence lawyer, said.
The court was told Davis did not mean to offend anyone, has shown remorse and had made an early guilty plea.
Ms White said: “She has expressed deep remorse and regret in that moment in picking up that sign that she did not seek clarification from another Arabic-speaking member of the protest (about its meaning).”
Ms White, who described Davis as someone who “comes across as polite and not a troublemaker”, added: “She is a member of the transgender community and due to the views in Saudi Arabia, she had no choice but to flee.
“She has been abandoned by her family because of the way she lives.”
The money and costs will be deducted from Davis’s benefits as she completes a course and seeks employment, the court was told.
Andy Valentine, Dept Asst Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who will be leading the policing operation ahead of Saturday’s protests, said: “We have been clear that while the right to protest lawfully must be respected, that does not extend to actions or statements that cross the line from political speech into criminality.
“While the majority of those attending protests have done so lawfully, it is regrettable that we have seen a number of people who have turned up carrying signs or chanting in a way that they should know to others and in particular those in our Jewish communities.
“If you are coming out to protest, please think carefully about how slogans and statements might impact others. We will not tolerate hate speech or abuse.
“Anyone who continues to engage in that sort of behaviour, despite the clear warnings we have provided, will face police action and could end up before the courts.”