A defence lawyer with a history of highly-covered cases made his bid for MP and criticised the current labour candidate’s treatment of her constituency in Tower Hamlets.
Tasnime Akunjee, of Bangladeshi origin, announced he would stand as an independent MP for the newly drawn-up Bethnal Green and Stepney constituency in Tower Hamlets last week.
The defence lawyer represented the Begum family in the controversial case of their daughter Shamima, a Bethnal Green schoolgirl who travelled to Syria to support the Islamic State group. He also led a defamation case against Tommy Robinson, leader of the English Defence League.
Akunjee said he was “thrilled” to say he would stand as an MP in a video on January 23, just over a week after Rabina Khan announced she would stand as Lib-Dem MP for the same constituency in the next general election.
Akunjee will stand for the newly drawn-up constituency, Bethnal Green and Stepney, the reformed version of what is currently Bethnal Green and Bow, represented by Rushnara Ali.
The new independent candidate said he would stand “head to head” with the constituency’s current Labour MP, Rushnara Ali, and criticised her stance on a ceasefire in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.
He said: “Rushanara’s recent actions seem driven more by Labour Party policy than the will of the people she represents, and this speaks volumes.
“Take, for instance, her refusal to vote for a ceasefire despite the overwhelming pro-Palestinian sentiment in Bethnal Green and Stepney.
“Fifty-six other Labour MPs went against Keir Starmer’s orders, some even risking their senior shadow government roles.
“But Rushanara remained silent. Her silence was a betrayal of your humanitarian sentiment and the people of Bethnal Green and Stepney are rightly angry.
Rushnara Ali posted to X, formerly Twitter, on 15 November making her stance clear on the conflict. She said: “I want to ensure that my position is used to ensure the utmost impact to help alleviate this devastating situation.
“The reality is that this motion does not secure a ceasefire and would not lead towards one, which the people of Gaza urgently and desperately need.
“This SNP motion does not stand a chance of securing a ceasefire; and I will not relent in my obligation to be a loud voice within the Shadow Government, simply in exchange for a symbolic measure, important as it is, when my conscience dictates I do much more right now.”
Akunjee represented Shamima Begum, who fled to Syria aged 15 and was subsequently stripped of her citizenship on grounds of national security in 2019. Her lawyers successfully argued she was brainwashed and trafficked.
When Jamal Hijazi, a Syrian refugee aged 16, brought a libel case against Tommy Robinson, Akunjee led the case.
Ultimately the English Defence League founder was ordered to pay £100,000 in damages after wrongly accusing the teenager of “violently attacking young English girls”.
The redesignated Bethnal Green and Stepney constituency will cover Bethnal Green East (formerly Bethnal Green), St Dunstan’s, Bethnal Green West (formerly St Peter’s), Shadwell, Spitalfields and Banglatown, Stepney Green, Weavers and Whitechapel. Bethnal Green and Bow, Bow East and Bow West will now be moved to the new Stratford and Bow constituency.
Currently, Kahn and Akunjee are the only two to announce they are standing for the new Bethnal Green and Stepney constituency. Ali is yet to announce whether she will stand for Stratford and Bow or Bethnal Green and Stepney.
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