Conservatives rejoiced Wednesday over the release of controversial British far-right activist Tommy Robinson, who was freed from prison on bail after an appeals court overturned a contempt of court charge and sentence.
The court of appeals judge in England found that part of the ruling made against Robinson, who received a 13-month sentence in May when he pleaded guilty to breaching reporting restrictions, was “flawed” and ordered a retrial.
Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, his supporters and anti-fascist protesters chanted at one another, separated by police, while Robinson promptly paid bail and was freed.
American right-wing media personalities and publications had rallied behind the 35-year-old, a former leader of the far-right, anti-Muslim English Defence League whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon. His supporters celebrated online and hailed a victory for free speech.
Tommy Robinson set free
His entire treatment was illegal
He was a political prisoner
The Left cheered this
Let that sink in
— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) August 1, 2018
— Lauren Southern (@Lauren_Southern) August 1, 2018
Tommy Robinson is coming home.
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) August 1, 2018
Tommy Robinson is free! pic.twitter.com/3MYzfVY7tn
— Ezra Levant 🍁 (@ezralevant) August 1, 2018
Tommy Robinson is free!
— Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux) August 1, 2018
A Breitbart News op-ed praised the release of Robinson, who it described as a “brave, decent, principled man.”
Robinson was arrested after attempting to film defendants on a social media livestream in a controversial court case in northern England, which was subject to reporting restrictions. For breaking the restrictions, he had been given 10 months for contempt of court with a further 3 months added because of a suspended sentence.
Robinson’s British supporters led protests in London and rallied online under #FreeTommy. The global hard-right flocked to Robinson’s cause, pushing the conviction as a freedom of speech issue and raising petitions for his release.
Robinson was also gifted over $26,000 in financial donations via bitcoin as American right-wing personalities, in particular, began to raise awareness. Fox News host Tucker Carlson covered the story, and many right-wing influencers wrote about Robinson online.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 31, 2018
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) May 27, 2018
What happened to Tommy Robinson in the UK is a picture of what is coming to the United States if liberals prevail in taking away our freedoms and our rights.
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) May 27, 2018
While conservative commentary viewed the sentencing through a First Amendment lens, the reporting restriction measures Robinson breached are a long-standing part of the British legal system and put in place in certain court cases to prevent an unfair verdict that might prejudice the jury. Far from a censorship action directed at Robinson, all media outlets must abide until the case is finished and were doing so.
The appeals court judge on Wednesday harshly criticized technical flaws by the judge who jailed Robinson in May. He had been rushed from arrest to court too quickly (in a mere five-hour time period) and had removed the offending video from Facebook on the court’s order. Rather than sentencing him at that time, the judge should have adjourned to allow a defense to be mounted by Robinson’s legal team.
Robinson’s retrial is likely to take place in September.