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Protests held outside council offices calling on Slough Deputy Leader to resign

James Bagley. Local Democracy Reporter

Protests held calling on Slough Deputy Leader to resign

Pressure continues to mount for the deputy leader of Slough Borough Council to resign after protesters flocked to the council building for the third time, demanding her to step down over controversial Facebook posts.

On Friday, April 23, campaigners gathered at the Observatory House on Windsor Road with placards of ‘stop Islamophobia’ and of the deputy leader’s face, councillor Sabia Akram, crossed out with the words ‘shame on you’ attached.

Around 40 protesters were yelling ‘Sabia Akram: Out! Out! Out!’ and ‘Sabia Akram: Shame on you!’ in the town.

For the past few weeks, protesters have been gathering outside the Slough Council building on Fridays demanding Cllr Akram to stand down as deputy leader for welcoming the controversial teacher from Batley Grammar School to Slough.

Why were they protesting?

Cllr Akram (Lab,Elliman), who is Muslim, sparked controversy after she posted on Facebook, welcoming the Batley Grammar School teacher to the town if he needed to leave the area.

The Yorkshire teacher and his family are in hiding after he showed a cartoon drawing of the Prophet from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to pupils during a religious education class on blasphemy.

In her now-deleted Facebook page, she said she was ‘shocked and saddened’ to see the teacher receive death threats and forced to go into hiding.

She said: “To the teacher if you need to leave Batley which I wouldn’t blame you! Come to Slough. We’ll welcome you and your family.”

Cllr Akram did not defend the teacher’s 'disrespectful' actions but said he should be forgiven for his mistake, not threatened to be killed.

She also called for Muslim leaders not to condone those sending death threats to the teacher and the protesters outside the school’s gates.

This sparked anger as some saw it as Cllr Akram disrespecting the Prophet and being sympathetic to the 'blasphemous' teacher.

A petition with more than 1,300 signatures was set up calling for her to resign from her leadership role.

The petitioner said: “Anyone who disrespects our Prophet (pbuh) has no position in our lives,” adding “I don’t wish to see this evil person as my leader.”

Before deleting her Facebook page, Cllr Akram did apologise for 'any hurt' her previous posts caused and did not mean to cause 'great offence' to anyone, nor to undermine the Prophet and his esteem.

What do they demand?

Protesters were not satisfied with Cllr Akram’s ‘brief’ apology and now want her to step down from her second-in-command position and/or apologise publicly as her comments caused ‘deep hurt’ and ‘divide’ within the community.

Standing outside the council office with a placard, Muhammed Faras Khan told the Local Democracy Reporting Service Cllr Akram made a ‘four point’ apology ‘behind closed doors’ at a local Mosque with someone writing it down in Urdu.

He, among other protesters, are demanding for that written and signed apology to be made public and translated into English for everyone to read and understand.

Muhammed said they will continue to protest, even outside the polling stations on May 6, for a public apology or for Labour to investigate her Facebook posts.

He said: “She’s admitted she’s done some sort of wrong, but we want to her to clarify what she felt like she has done wrong and how she caused offence so even the general public are clear on what’s going on and, as of yet, she hasn’t made any attempt to do that and that’s why we’re going to continue [to protest].”

Asam Shakoor, took a slightly different view, saying: “Even with an apology, we no longer believe that she represents the community.

“What she’s done is create a divide in the community with either you’re for this or against this and that’s the result of her words she has chosen.

“She is an elected councillor of the community and the deputy leader of Slough Borough Council; she should be clearer with her words and think about the effect on what she’s going to say.

“She’s hurt a lot of people and she can no longer continue in her capacity as deputy leader. We no longer have trust in her to lead us, to lead the community, we no longer feel she has our best interest at heart.”

Another protester said they will take the protest outside the Labour parliament and Tan Dhesi’s office, the MP for Slough, if need be, to add pressure for her to resign.

Muhammed denied the campaigns are politically motivated and just want the deputy leader to make that ‘four point’ apology public and for her to step down from her role.

Cllr Akram has declined to comment at this time.

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