Free speech in the UK is dead

In the YouTube community there has been a case which has been the subject of much conversation over recent weeks which could have far-reaching implications beyond a sub-section of the internet. Markus Meecham, 28 from North Lanarkshire in Scotland, better known by his YouTube moniker Count Dankula posted a video on his channel of him teaching his dog to perform the Nazi salute.

In the video, Count Dankula’s pug was watching a video of Hitler while he said lines such as “gas the Jews.” To put this into context he said in the video “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute her dog is so I thought I would turn her into the least cute thing you could think of, a Nazi.” This video was clearly a joke and a prank. Some may find it tasteless, but in no way could this be viewed as anything other than a stupid joke. Count Dankula has since apologized and reiterated that it was nothing more than a prank to annoy his girlfriend. That should of really been the end of it.

Well you thought wrong. Markus Meecham was arrested by Police Scotland. In a statement released at the time Police Scotland said “A 28-year-old man was arrested on Thursday 28th April in relation to the alleged publication of offensive material online (improper use of electronic communications under the Electronic Communications Act 2003.)

Count Dankula was charged with “communicating material which would cause fear and alarm, and stir up hatred on religious grounds.” Meecham is facing up to one year in prison and is currently on trial for the “crime.” This is an utterly shocking case of the system denying someone their right to free speech. Markus Meecham was clearly not advocating the use of violence against Jewish people, it was a stupid joke, nothing more, nothing less.

This whole saga has got me thinking in recent weeks whether us in the UK truly live in a society that enjoys the freedom of speech enjoyed by America for instance. The answer is categorically no. Freedom of speech in my view, as it is with anybody else who believes in this fundamental pillar of a free society is the right to say anything. Whether it be offensive, rude, unpopular or even sometimes downright hateful, if you live in a society that is truly free, there are no in-betweens.

The only speech that should ever be censored is that which calls for immediate acts of violence to be perpetrated. That is my translation of freedom of speech. In the UK however, we do not enjoy the luxury of freedom of speech because of numerous hate speech legislative measures which have been passed over recent years.

These laws are intended to cover “expressions of hatred toward someone on account of that person’s colour, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.” Now, in all honesty, I think most civilized people would not look to insult people based on any of these factors. I certainly wouldn’t. But there are times when we need to have discussions on the topic of race or religion.

I always cast my mind back to Rotherham when I hear the definitions of hate speech laws in the United Kingdom. Because of the politically correct culture and fear of mentioning relevant demographical factors involved such as race and religion, the abuse was allowed to go on for years.

When the time comes to have a relevant discussion about Islam for example, will hate speech laws be used to close down that important conversation? Because let’s face it, the term “hatred” is awfully vague these days. Saying something that somebody disagrees with could be perceived to be a hateful statement. When legal sanctions are held over the head of people, it makes them less likely to say something that could “rock the boat” so to speak, as was the case in Rotherham and beyond.

This case of Count Dankula is sadly not an isolated case. The UK police seem to be throwing an awful lot of effort and manpower into tackling the “issue” of hate speech, nowhere more so than online. In 2016, 3,397 people were arrested under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. This law covers communications that “cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another.” The Metropolitan Police began a campaign back in 2016 called the “Online Hate Crime Hub.” The London based team compromises of five officers and will cost £1.7million to run.

It is clear that hate speech laws run directly in opposition to the notion of free speech. When people are being arrested for simply being an internet troll, what is to stop the system from penalizing somebody who is speaking truth’s that could rock the establishment or disrupt the societal order. There are places in the world where the authorities used to employ such tactics, they were called Communist dictatorships. In the UK we do not have the added protection of a constitution which protects free speech such as in America. The right to free speech was seen as so important to the founding fathers that it was the first amendment to the constitution, taking precedent over the right to keep arms and unlawful search and seizures.

I never thought in my lifetime that I would be proclaiming free speech dead in a land that gave the world the great enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke who championed free speech. But that is sadly the case. If you say something today about Islamism for example, the censorious nature of our establishment is more than likely to come down on you like a ton of bricks.

Hate speech laws have killed free speech in the UK. When it comes to free speech there can be no compromises. When Voltaire said “I may not agree with what you say but I would die for your right to say it” he was speaking to the absolute necessity to be able to offend, to upset and be controversial when living in a free society. It brings me great pain to say that the UK today is a shadow of that free society many brave men and women gave their lives to protect.

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