THE leader of a hyper-local party has described the wave of Islamophobia and racism allegations made against councillors as an “attack on free speech”.

Horwich and Blackrod First Independents leader Marie Brady has defended a town councillor over his comments on social media about Islam.

Commenting on a BBC documentary about a controversial blasphamy law in Pakistan, Cllr Craig Rotherham described Islam as a “truly barbaric religion” and warned against attempts to make Islamophobia a crime in the UK.

He said: “Let’s tread very carefully with calls for Islamophobia to become a crime in this country. This is an attempt to bring an Islamic blasphemy law in through the back door.”

The comments were made in the wake of two internal party investigations into Bolton councillors following allegations of racism.

Cllr Brady said that racist, sexist, homophobic or other abusive and offensive content or “trolling” is not permitted on the party’s Facebook group and a number of users have been removed for failing to adhere to these rules.

The independent group’s leader at Bolton Council described the post on Cllr Rotherham’s personal Facebook profile as “strongly-worded” – but she said his opinion was based on knowledge and research.

She said: “He has been equally outspoken in criticism of other religions, Catholicism being one.

“I feel the wave of allegations against councillors accusing them of Islamophobia and racism is an attack on free speech.

“It is disturbing to see personal social media accounts being trawled, with any comments or posts on a specific subject, circulated to people who would never have seen the posts or comments.

“All done with the express intention of making an allegation of racism or hate.”

An image showing the Facebook post by Cllr Rotherham was sent to The Bolton News following a series of allegations accusing elected members at the borough council of racism and Islamophobia.

Hulton councillor Derek Bullock has been suspended by the Conservatives while the party investigates Islamophobia within its ranks.

This came after the ex-English Democrats member was named on a list of councillors, activists and members accused by advocacy group HOPE Not Hate of sharing anti-Muslim content online.

The local Labour group was also investigating allegations of racism made against Cllr Anna Marie-Watters after she shared a post by far-right group Britain First about banning hallal meat in British schools.

She left the party following a dispute over campaigning expectations of candidates ahead of council elections.

Cllr Rotherham was contacted but declined to comment.