Pro-Palestinian activist Muhammed Desai was removed from a Virgin Active gym for wearing a BDS t-shirt that some fellow gym members said they found offensive. BDS South Africa has now said they will be taking Virgin Active to the SA Human Rights Commission and Equality Court. 

BDS South Africa will be taking Virgin Active to the Human Rights Commission for an infringement of freedom of expression.

The action against the gym franchise follows the removal of Muhammed Desai, Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) coordinator,  from Virgin Active at Old Eds in Houghton. Desai was escorted away by police for wearing a Young Communist League t-shirt that featured an image of Chris Hani and a BDS message. Desai was reported defending the wearing of his shirt by saying he is a paying member of the gym.

BDS is an international Palestinian solidarity group that calls for economic action against Israel.

Virgin Active said the T-shirt worn by Desai “generated strong complaints” from other gym members and he had previously been asked to not wear such t-shirts to the gym. The statement also said Desai is welcome to return to the gym provided he “respects the conditions of membership”. The statement suggested Desai wore the t-shirt to make a political statement, however the choice to wear the shirt does not directly infringe the gym rules.

Screenshot of Virgin Active's club rules. Image:  Samantha Camara

Screenshot of Virgin Active’s club rules. Image: Samantha Camara

Virgin Active’s club rules regarding clothing do not limit the wearing of shirts that support a political party or ideology. The rules do however, not allow the use of offensive language, intimidation or threats towards staff and other members.

702 Talk Radio host Redi Thlabi discussed the incident on Thursday during her show, and a caller identified as “Hilton”, claimed to be the person who confronted Desai over the t-shirt.

Hilton accused Desai of provoking the row by wearing the t-shirt and bragged about forcing Desai to remove the t-shirt by threatening to “take this outside and settle it like men”. Hilton said the t-shirt was offensive because the Virgin Active was a “predominately Jewish” gym.

Following the altercation, Desai tweeted this picture of the shirt he wore to the gym: