July 16, 2018 / 4:21 PM / 4 months ago

Breitbart lobbying prompted U.S. envoy to raise Tommy Robinson case with British

(This July 16 story corrects first name of U.S. congressman in paragraph 12 to Paul not Louis)

FILE PHOTO: Leader of far right British party English Defence League Steven Yaxley-Lennon aka "Tommy Robinson" delivers a speech during a meeting in Lyon May 14, 2011. Picture taken May 14, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Pratta

By Mark Hosenball

LONDON (Reuters) - A representative of U.S. President Donald Trump raised the case of jailed British anti-Muslim activist Tommy Robinson with Britain’s ambassador to the United States following lobbying by the right-wing Breitbart.com website, according to a British government source and a pro-Robinson campaigner.

Former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, Trump’s Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, told British envoy Sir Kim Darroch at a meeting in June that Breitbart “people” had contacted him about Robinson’s imprisonment, the British government source said.

Brownback told Darroch that British authorities should be aware that the website was making noise about the case, the source said.

The British Embassy in Washington has made no public comment on the discussion.

Three pro-Robinson campaigners said there were multiple direct contacts between Brownback, his aides, people connected to Breitbart.com and other groups protesting Robinson’s imprisonment.

One of the pro-Robinson activists with direct knowledge of the issue said Brownback personally expressed dismay at British laws restricting news coverage of pending and open criminal trials.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the agency did not give readouts of private diplomatic discussions.

However, the spokesman said, “We refute as completely false the reports which wrongly assert that Ambassador Brownback urged the UK government to act on this issue or threatened repercussions by the U.S. government in any way.”

Robinson was arrested in late May outside a courthouse in Leeds, England, while making video recordings about a trial related to child molestation. He was jailed for 13 months. Robinson’s trial lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Robinson’s real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, though he uses a number of aliases. He is a founder of the English Defence League, which has organized violent demonstrations against Islamic immigrants in the UK in the past decade.

More recently, Robinson has branded himself a journalist and campaigner against Islamic extremism, a move that won him contacts with American anti-Muslim activists.

U.S. Congressman Paul Gosar and a former Breitbart London editor were among speakers who addressed thousands of protesters at a pro-Robinson rally near the British parliament on Saturday.

Also visiting London for several days was Steve Bannon, former top White House adviser to Donald Trump and former chairman of Breitbart.com.

Bannon did not participate in Saturday’s pro-Robinson protest. But in a radio discussion with Nigel Farage, former leader of the anti-immigrant United Kingdom Independence Party, Bannon said Robinson should be released from prison.

Reporting By Mark Hosenball in London; additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington; editing by Nick Tattersall

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