JUSTICE secretary Michael Matheson has said inciting violence or hatred would not be tolerated by the Scottish authorities ahead of a demonstration by the far-right anti-Muslim group Pegida in Edinburgh.
Mr Matheson said Islamophobia or any hate crime would not be put up with by the government or Holyrood amid concern about the protest planned by Pegida Scotland for 21 March.
Addressing MSPs at Holyrood, he said: “Those who seek to incite violence will be dealt with firmly and reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The Scottish Government fully supports Police Scotland in taking all appropriate and proportionate action required. I speak for all my colleagues in the Scottish Government and, I am sure, all members of this parliament, when I say that we do not tolerate Islamophobia or any other form of hatred or hate crime. We will not tolerate extremists who peddle hatred under the guise of protecting society.”
Pegida was formed in Germany and its name is an acronym that translates as “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”.
German events have attracted up to 25,000 people following the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the first UK rally in Newcastle at the weekend saw 400 people take to the streets. Details of the Edinburgh demonstration have appeared in online adverts, one of which states: “All patriot groups welcome (No violence or racism) we have decided to have a night time demo. We will be meeting at Waverley Station.”
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Mr Matheson issued his warning after Green MSP Patrick Harvie expressed concern that Pegida posed “an explicit threat to Muslim citizens in this country”.
Mr Matheson responded by saying: “The Muslim faith is an integral and important part of Scottish society. It is part of the rich, multi and interfaith relationships that we have in Scotland.
“Any organisation that seeks to unpick or exploit that should not be tolerated in any shape or fashion. The Scottish Government will certainly not tolerate that. Pegida and the message of hatred that it seeks to peddle should not be tolerated in any shape or fashion. I give the member and the chamber an assurance that Police Scotland will deal with the issue robustly and proportionately. So, too, will the government. We are a government that believes in a tolerant society and that the Islamic faith has an important part to play in Scottish society.”
Mr Matheson added that work was being done to reassure Muslims that they should not feel that they had to apologise for barbaric acts carried out by others “under the guise of Islam”.
He told MSPs that freedom of speech was a “fundamental human right”, which every body should protect and uphold. But he added that it was not an “absolute right” and had to be exercised in ways that did not affect the rights of others.
Asked if Edinburgh City Council should ban the event, Mr Matheson said that Pegida had not been in contact with the local authority. The justice secretary added that the signs were that the demonstration would be static, as opposed to a march, which would require council permission.
Mazhar Khan of the Muslim Council of Scotland said: “The council endorses the comments by the justice secretary. We are quite concerned by the rise of this group Pegida and what they represent. But the key thing is that fortunately in Scotland the people have always rejected these racist and extremist organisations, whether they are the National Front, BNP or EDL. People in Scotland see through the hate.”
A city council spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with Police Scotland to monitor the situation.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “There are numerous demonstrations in Edinburgh and events are policed appropriately and proportionately to allow for lawful protest and to minimise the impact on the public.”