POLICE Scotland has issued an apology after it was accused of "ignoring freedom of expression" by forcing the removal of pro-Palestinian photographs at an Edinburgh church exhibition following complaints they were anti-Semitic.

It comes just over two weeks after Police Scotland was rapped in a watchdog probe following complaints over its "interference" with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. (SPSC) The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) told the force to consider whether three officers' actions were lawful and a breach of human rights.

The Herald:

Now Police Scotland has upheld complaints about officers' forcing the removal of photographs from a Network of Photographers for Palestine (NPP) exhibition outside the St John's Episcopal Church in Princes Street, Edinburgh which the group described as "artistic censorship".

A complaint finding said that two officers and their sergeant have been given "corrective advice and guidance".

The exhibition was set up to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a British government public statement made during World War I, to announce support for the establishment of a "national home" for the Jewish people in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It also aimed to highlight how the declaration laid the foundations for "the Zionist state of Israel as it is today" and how it affects the lives of millions of Palestinians.

The Herald:

A church official said at the time that the police demanded they take down all 22 photographs but managed to negotiate to have only what was considered the more provocative images removed.

A complaint was lodged after NPP accused officers of "censorship or artistic expression" by insisting on the removal of some pictures in the Fringe display in August all of which they said had already appeared in the public domain. It was known that Rev Markus Dünzkofer, rector of St. John's and a church manager were accused of racism by one individual over the exhibition.

A police complaint finding from Superintendent Richard Thomas of Police Scotland's Edinburgh Division found that following a complaint about the exhibition, officers found two images that were "particularly graphic" and a discussion with the church manager, reached a compromise that as it was thought the exhibition was finished, all the images would be removed.

But the police report says it was later discovered that the exhibition was not finished and it was decided to put the pictures back up.

But the officers insisted that two of the 11 picture "that were particularly graphic in their opinion, could be put back up.

The most graphic of the shots related to the killing of a disarmed Palestinian Abed al Fatah a-Sharif – who had been shot and incapacitated during a stabbing attack on an Israeli soldier at the West Bank city of Hebron last year. The soldier was convicted of manslaughter earlier this year.

The Herald:

A picture of the scene similar to this was taken down from the exhibition

The report says: "On the balance of the available evidence, I conclude that your complaint is upheld as the officers advised that two images should not be put back on display. I apologise for the officers actions on that day and also for the consternation this has caused yourself and your group.

"Having spoken to the independent witnesses they are all of the opinion that the officers acted in good faith."

Supt Thomas said a memo to staff would be issued "advising them of the correct course of action, should they be involved in similar circumstances."

Phil Chetwynd of NPP said: "For the second time in as many months Police Scotland has been found wanting in its actions towards campaigners for Palestinian rights in Scotland.

“Malicious and false claims of anti-semitism now occur all too frequently in Scotland, and the police really need to clarify their position in dealing with such claims.

"It seems that they may be hamstrung by the use of a particular definition of anti-semitism that is confused and contradictory."

The Herald:

The PIRC earlier this month ordered Police Scotland to appoint independent officers to entirely re-examine complaints made about interference with the SPSC.

It found that one uniformed sergeant’s unannounced visit to a SPSC meeting to give advice to activists in a cinema turned out to be an information-gathering exercise, which was recorded on force systems along with an individual’s personal details.

In a separate visit to one SPSC member’s house by a police sergeant and inspector, a warning was given that he should not to take part in a planned supermarket protest. The watchdog has now told the force to consider whether the three officers’ actions were unlawful and a breach of human rights.

And a ban on SPSC protesters entering a court room explained as due to "potential public order issues" to the complainers was described by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner as "not adequately reasoned" as earlier police responses said the demonstrations were "lawful and peaceful" with no arrests.

The PIRC found the force had not handled three of six complaints from the SPSC about "force interference" to a reasonable standard and have been asked to reconsider its responses.