March 22, 2018

The Death of Free Speech in the UK

I've been trying so very hard not to get political on here. There's a real risk of alienating chunks of my audience for openly holding a different view to them. But this isn't a left, right, or centre issue. This is a societal one that everybody should be able to agree on: Freedom of speech is paramount in a free society. If you can't speak, you are not free. And by that metric, the UK is no longer a free society.

It's been a frankly awful fortnight for freedom of speech in the UK. I should open by saying that unlike in the US, the UK doesn't actually have a provision for unassailable freedom of speech, which is... let's say "distasteful".

Markus Meechan or Count Dankula was (finally) found guilty yesterday for being "grossly offensive" online. That means that for the crime of creating a parody video where he, with full disclaimers as bookends, demonstrated his girlfriend's pug reacting to "sieg heil" with a Nazi salute and to "gas the Jews" by jumping around, Meechan faces the very real prospect of jail time. This is after almost two years of delays to his trial and last minute attempts by the prosecution to have his charges increased further. Meechan is, by any metric, a comedian. It's genuinely painful to know that we now live in a country where a comedian can be charged for making a tasteless joke. I won't bother linking to the video because it now gets taken down as quickly as it's posted, but do a quick search for it, watch it in full, and really consider whether it's justifiable to send a man to prison for it.

Lauren Southern was detained at the border under the edict of terror legislation last week. This means that for the first hour of interrogation she's not entitled to legal representation, and she loses her "right to remain silent". Now of course, if she were being held as a legitimate terrorist threat I'd be willing to accept this unpleasant situation as something necessary to prevent an atrocity (public good for personal ill, if you will). But this was an excuse used to quickly remove her from the public eye. Lauren Southern is a Canadian journalist with a right-wing bent with whom I definitely have my disagreements, she's a Commonwealth citizen with the right to freedom of travel. She was coming into the country to interview Tommy Robinson. Because she's a journalist. But, it was decided that she "was not conducive to the public good". Holy. Shit.

And even this isn't the end of it. This comes just days after Brittany Pettibone and Martin Sellner were detained and released after two days for the 'crime' of planning to meet up with the same Tommy Robinson to give a speech at Speaker's Corner in London. The letter which they were supplied with stating their not being allowed to enter the country specifically cites issues that may arise from giving said speech. However, the right to speak without consequence at Speaker's Corner is one of the only times that freedom of speech is mandated by act of parliament.

Now truth be told, Southern, Pettibone, and Sellner are a bit too far to the right for me to be behind some of the things they say in particular, but I refuse to accept that gives anybody the right to prevent them from saying it. Surely the best way to shine a light on views I disagree with is to give them the biggest platform possible so that they can be discussed publicly?

The UK, my home, needs to urgently sort its shit out.

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