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Refugee fined for waving offensive placard she ‘found at bus stop and did not understand’

Laura Davis fled Saudi Arabia before settling in the UK (PA)
Laura Davis fled Saudi Arabia before settling in the UK (PA)

A refugee has been fined after holding an offensive sign at a pro-Palestine rally.

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 London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday.

Davis, of Barnet, north London, was charged after being spotted waving the placard at a protest in central London on October 28.

She displayed a sign that was “threatening or abusive in the hearing of sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress and the offence was racially aggravated”, the charge said.

She was part of a breakaway protest group and had been seen on CCTV to be carrying a placard which read: “FREE PALESTINE!! ISRA*L BURN IN HELL”.

Davis picked up the placard at a bus stop and did not realise what it said, the court was told.

You must show other people the tolerance you expect them to show you. Do you understand?

Nicholas Tarry, chairman of magistrates' bench

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 her to pay a total of £225 including £100 fine, £40 victim surcharge and £85 costs, told Davis: “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.

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)

Nicola White, defending

The large central London protest took place as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators rallied in cities in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to show support for Palestinians as Israel’s military widened its air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Davis attended the rally “with good intentions” but, in “an impulsive action”, carried the sign away after finding it at the bus stop, her defence lawyer Nicola White said.

The court was told Davis did not mean to offend anyone, has shown remorse and 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.