Piers Corbyn – the conspiracist, climate change-denier brother of the former Labour leader – has been arrested over leaflets likening Covid-19 vaccination to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
A London council said the leaflets were an effort to play on the fears of some residents – particularly from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, who are particularly at risk from Covid-19 – about vaccines.
They feature a sketch of the entrance to Auschwitz, in which the gates’ slogan – ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (‘Work sets you free’) – has been changed to read: “Vaccines are safe path to freedom”.
Inside are baseless claims and conspiracy theories, including the widely-circulated allegation that vaccines contain nanochip technology that enables electronic tracking. They bear the name of Corbyn and his website – where the websites are visible in digital form.
The Metropolitan Police said “officers investigating reports of malicious material in the form of a leaflet being circulated in south London in late January have made two arrests.
“A 73-year-old man was arrested in Southwark on Wednesday, 3 February on suspicion of malicious communications and public nuisance.” Another man, 37, “was arrested earlier the same day in Bow, east London, on suspicion of a public order offence.”
The statement added: “Both men were taken to a south London police station. They have since been bailed to return on a date in early March. The leaflet contained material that appeared to compare the Covid-19 vaccination programme with the Holocaust.”
The leader of Southwark council said earlier this week that he had reported the matter to the police. “Shameful disinformation of this sort dampens our efforts to help save lives,” Councillor Kieron Williams said.
“It is deeply disturbing that a very small minority is playing upon the fears and concerns of some of our residents, particularly those most at risk from Covid-19 such as people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds,” he added.
“The vaccine is our best protection against Covid-19 and so false information and harmful conspiracy theories could cost yet more lives due to this deadly disease.”
Labour’s shadow culture secretary joined the condemnation of the incident – which highlights the difficulties facing authorities in tackling Covid-19 disinformation, particularly around vaccination.
“The growth in dangerous and, in some cases, far-right and antisemitic anti-vax material is deeply worrying with coordinated attempts to spread fear and distrust both online and offline,” Jo Stevens said.
“Ensuring people feel safe taking the vaccine is literally a matter of life and death and if just one person is dissuaded from being vaccinated because of this it is one person too many.”
Corbyn was found guilty of breaching emergency health regulations at an anti-lockdown protest in London’s Hyde Park in December. He became one of the first people to receive a £10,000 fixed penalty under new coronavirus restrictions prohibiting public gatherings of more than 30 people last summer.
According to the Evening Standard, Corbyn himself was involved in designing the leaflets. He told the newspaper: “A group of us came up with the idea. The Evening Standard was saying that vaccines will set us all free and it is not true.” Asked whether the leaflets broke the law, he added: “Of course not.”