The protester who threw a shoe at Premier Wen Jiabao at Cambridge University in February is now actually on trial for “using words and behavior likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress” to Wen and others.
Martin Jahnke, a 27-year-old German studying pathology at Cambridge’s Darwin College, blew a whistle and then yelled “How can the university prostitute itself with this dictator? How can you listen to these lies?” before throwing a shoe at Wen Jiabao, who was just completing a speech to assembled students.
While that kind of behavior would probably get you bundled away quietly and never heard from again in certain countries, we were surprised it actually reached trial stage in the U.K. Lawyers for Jahnke argued that perhaps the Chinese government had somehow influenced the Crown Prosecution Service to take up the case, especially considering that “police charged Jahnke without referring the case to the CPS,” which they otherwise would normally do, the AFP reported.
The Guardian said prosecutors denied any Chinese involvement and argued that the act of throwing the shoe could have resulted in actual harm, since it might have caused “serious injury” to the Chinese premier’s eyes or nose if it had connected:
Caroline Allison, prosecuting, said Jahnke disturbed Wen’s Cambridge speech by whistling. “He was heard shouting words to the effect that the university was prostituting themselves by allowing the premier to speak and referred to the premier as a dictator,” she said.
“He picked up one of his shoes, a trainer, which he then threw, which must have been with some force, on to the stage area a few yards away from where the premier was standing.”
Allison added: “Mr Jahnke’s behaviour in shouting and blowing a whistle may have started off as lawful protest but when he threw his shoe it became unreasonable behaviour and an act of aggression.”
Besides, Grandpa Wen had already issued a statement forgiving the student, encouraging him to continue his studies at the university and promising that the event would not hurt Sino-British ties.
Still, prosecutors pointed out that similar incidents had happened with British politicians – most recently, business minister Peter Mandelson was attacked by flying custard – without charges being brought. Which means to us that either somebody in the courts already had it out for the kid, or that Brits are so scared of what China might think that it’s willing to waste time and resources reaching their hands into what, all things considered, should be an academic disciplinary matter.