Story by: ANDREW PAPWORTH
Monday, January 28, 2013
A ST Neots café owner who said he was wrongly accused of speaking in favour of Ugandan anti-gay legislation at a Christian rally has called on his accusers to apologise.
Paul Shinners said the blogs – by Barry Duke, editor of the atheist magazine Freethinker, and the human rights campaigner Melanie Nathan, who writes the blog www.oblogdeeoblogda.me – which claimed he had said that Uganda would be “blessed” if it passed the laws, were “defamatory” and came “as a bolt from the blue”.
Mr Duke, who lives in Spain, called the Cornerstone Café owner a “hatemonger of the first order” for reportedly supporting the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill which, if passed, could see people sentenced to life in prison if convicted for their “crimes”.
But Mr Shinners has written to Mr Duke and Ms Nathan demanding an apology, saying that the story was wrong and that they should have checked it with him first.
“From our side, the one thing we are asking for is an apology,” said Mr Shinners.
“It is the least they should be able to do. We want to be able to move on.”
The accusations hit Cornerstone Café hard, Mr Shinners said, with staff having to shut the shop in Cambridge Street on two consecutive Saturdays because they were being subjected to abuse from people who had seen the blog.
Some have even left permanently because of the abuse, he added, including a special needs volunteer group who “saw the stories and didn’t think it was the right environment” for them.
Mr Shinners, whose Passion for Souls group frequently travels to Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda to provide help to people in those countries, is unsure whether he will be able to return to Uganda if people interpret his actions as being supportive of anti-gay legislation.
“It was bizarre and a bit like a dream,” Mr Shinners said. “It was incredible to think that a small café in St Neots got caught up in issues in Uganda. It hit us like a bolt from the blue.”
He added: “In a court of law, you are innocent until proven guilty. On the internet, it seems that you are guilty unless you can prove you are innocent.”
However, he said the reaction from people in St Neots since he returned from his trip last week had been very supportive.
Mr Duke has since posted the statement Mr Shinners released denying the account after the story broke on his blog.