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Judge Rules in Favor of 3 Women Convicted Over Parachute Images, Opting Not to Impose Punishment

Judge Tan Ikram handed down conditional discharges to three women who displayed images of a parachutist during a pro-Palestinian march in London.

The three women, Heba Alhayek, Pauline Ankunda, and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo, were convicted of a terrorist offense. They were spotted displaying images resembling a parachutist or paraglider during the march just days after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Hamas had used motorized paragliders in their attacks across the Israeli border, resulting in the deaths of 1,200 civilians and military personnel.

Alhayek and Ankunda were seen in a video on social media displaying the images on their backs, while Taiwo was carrying a placard with the same image. Judge Tan Ikram rejected the defense’s assertion that the image was a symbol of “flight and escape” from Gaza, which he described infamously as “the world’s largest outdoor prison.”

He determined that a “reasonable person” would interpret the images in the context of the march as referring to Hamas’s use of paragliders during the Oct. 7 attacks.

Judge Ikram stated that there was no evidence that the defendants supported Hamas or intended to do so by their use of the images, which he noted technically showed a parachutist rather than a paraglider.

He concluded that the women had learned from the experience and decided “not to punish” them but rather gave them all a 12-month conditional discharge. Before the sentencing, defense counsel Mark Summers pointed out that Alhayek was from Gaza, and her family were outspoken critics of Hamas. He described her as the “last person on that march who would have supported that organization.”

Mr. Summers rejected the prosecution’s assertion that the three women had acted “deliberately and maliciously,” which the judge agreed with. After the sentencing, the women were greeted by relatives and supporters, some of whom were seen in tears.
On Monday, the court heard that Taiwo had said she believed the image represented “liberation and peace.”

Prosecutor Brett Weaver argued that in the context of the march and coming just a week after the attacks, the image made it clear that the defendants supported Hamas. Alhayek and Ankunda initially claimed that someone else on the march had attached the images to their backs without their knowledge. However, they later admitted they had done it themselves, but denied it meant they supported Hamas or the atrocities on Oct. 7. Taiwo submitted a prepared statement in which she denied supporting Hamas.

Mr. Summers, representing Alhayek and Ankunda, said the image of the two women wearing the paraglider stickers had first been shared by a Twitter page called Hurryupharry, which he described as a “right-wing American website” and “anti-Palestinian.”

In his ruling, Judge Ikram stated that there was no evidence that police evidence-spotters at the march had seen the women wearing the images and that the matter only came before him because Hurryupharry had spotted the women on a video and had highlighted it, which led to a police investigation and the prosecution of the women.

Summers produced two witnesses: Victoria Brittain and Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff. Both agreed with Mr. Summers that the Gaza Strip is often referred to as the “world’s largest open-air prison” and stated that the population dreams of escaping its confines, often by air. Mr. Von Burgsdorff, a former paratrooper, said he carried out a paragliding “stunt” in July 2023, just before he left his post, as a “symbolic gesture” to show how young Gazans aspired to fly and be free.

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