United Patriots Front activists arrested for conducting a mock beheading while chanting ‘Allahu akbar’ claim charges are ‘an attack on free speech’

Three far-right activists are fighting charges they incited vilification of Muslims when they allegedly beheaded a dummy to protest the building of a Bendigo mosque.

United Patriots Front leader Blair Cottrell, 35, and supporters Neil Erikson, 32, and Christopher Neil Shortis, 46, are each representing themselves in the Melbourne Magistrates Court over the alleged stunt in October 2015.

Before the hearing began on Monday morning, anti-racism protesters gathered outside the courts, bearing anti-Nazi placards, but were held at bay by a wall of police.