I hesitated on whether to post on this, but in the end felt that I had to, as a truly horrible step too far. Last Friday two men in the UK were given stiff jail sentences. Their crime? Running a website posting material which the UK government considered was “offensive”. The BBC report is here.
No-one seems to have been hurt. No quantifiable injury to anyone is mentioned anywhere that I have seen. The offence was to verbally attack ethnic minorities of various sorts. Apparently — the BBC is vague — they may have queried the holocaust as well in some way.
Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle correctly assessed their chances of justice, and fled to the US and asked for asylum, since they had committed no crime under US law and their website was based in the US. The judge, who apparently has a history of left-wing activism, denied them asylum.
Judge Rodney Grant told the men their material was “abusive and insulting” and had the potential to cause “grave social harm”.
He added: “Such offences as these have, by their very nature, the potential to cause grave social harm, particularly in a society such as ours which has, for a number of years now, been multi-racial.
Um. So, no actual harm to anyone. He then sentenced Simon Sheppard to four years and ten months in prison, and Stephen Whittle to a lesser term.
That, said Adil Khan, head of diversity and community cohesion at Humberside Police, makes their conviction a first.
“This case is groundbreaking,” he said.
“The fact is now that we’ve been able to demonstrate that you’ve got nowhere to hide; people have been hiding on [sic] the fact that this server was in the US.
“Inciting racial hatred is a crime and one which seems to occur too regularly. This kind of material will not be tolerated as this lengthy investigation shows.”
Um. Inciting feelings … Was any evidence that these feelings *were* incited produced at the trial? Who precisely came along to testify that he now hated immigrants? Surely this is just weasel words for “saying anything that I think might cause people to react negatively to something I approve of.” I wonder how many political campaigns would pass that test?
Note the length of the sentences. Now look at this article: a drug dealer got more or less the same. Wreck hundreds of lives and make a million, and you get just under five years. Say Wrong Things, and you get just under five years. And we can be pretty certain that the establishment will bully and abuse Sheppard and Whittle in prison, in a way it would never dare do to a favoured group.
Groundbreaking? Yes, indeed it is. How proud we all are of Humberside police, and their “head of diversity and community cohesion”.
You have to hate people pretty badly to lock them up for their opinions. Whether we agree with Sheppard and Whittle is irrelevant; they had the right to say what they thought. At least, they thought they did.
First they came for those they called “racists”…
(Thanks to Five Feet of Fury for the tip).
10 thoughts on “Locking up those who say Wrong Things – it begins”
Thanks for this post.
Every law of this kind is freighting. There are a lot of views and opinions that are rightly subject to ridicule. Some may even be grounds for dismissal from positions in government. But the law should not limit in public expression simply because someone, some group, or a governmental agency finds it offensive.
Duane, I think likewise. It’s starting to get scary out there. The excuses for abolishing freedom of speech vary, the foe being demonised likewise — do you notice how they are always people who don’t have much access to the mass media? — but the end product, behind all the weasel-words, is something which any despot would feel proud of.
I agree with comments above and your post. Its very important to post on this. I intend to come back to this in the years to come and keep an Internet candle lit for these two men so unjustly convicted. They killed British Justice, something Hitler couldn’t do.
I’ve done a little more research on the web, and Sheppard himself seems a charmless character. But then that isn’t the point. Since when do we lock up people in the UK for their opinions?
The challenge is to differentiate between a respectable opinion, which should be allowed, and a hate opinion that incites violence, and comes from a group that is known for its involvement in violence, such as the Muslim fundamentalists and the BNP members. Those who propagate hate opinion should not receive our sympathy. But society should avoid criminalising an opinion, particularly an academic one, which simply threatens a privileged position of a group, exposes a big lie, or demystifies a long held myth (as the academician thinks).
I think respectable sites like yours, and Christian ones in particular, should defend opinion as a matter of principle; however, opinion that leads to violence, overt or covert, like the opinion that Jews and Christians are pigs and are hated by Allah; that women are like animals because all are ridden; that blacks are subhuman; or that homosexuals should be killed – all these are not opinions that a civilised society should allow their propagation.
I agree that inciting violence should not be acceptable. It is illegal, and so it should be.
Mind you… I remember that all those hippies and lefties in the 70’s DID think it was acceptable — so long as it was them doing the inciting against “the violence of society”, raising money for and acting as apologists for “liberation movements”, and so on! They probably still do. They’re not exactly cracking down on the Moslems who do it, are they? But still, it’s wrong.
Beyond that, I don’t really agree. Let the Moslems post their “kill all the Christians stuff”. Why? Because no-one is going to stop them. It’s illegal now, but no-one stops them. So, why pass laws that they don’t have to follow? That’s futile.
As for “hate opinion”; who decides what is “hate” and what is merely legitimate “anger against the oppressor”? Well, it won’t be you or I. The term “hate opinions” is used to demonise disagreement, that’s all.
The things you and I find offensive will not be restrained by those in power. That’s just a fact. What they will attack is opinions we do NOT find offensive. Why should we let them have a free pass to do this?
No, I think we must let people say what they want.
If society allows organisation, and propagation, of opinion that incites discrimination, persecution and oppression of other groups, it invites chaos and trouble. It must, nevertheless, be careful not to restrict opinion which does not potentially lead to that.*(see footnote) If we are confident that the laws will not be abused then it will be good to apply laws that ban hate and violence-inciting opinion. If, however, we are not capable of making the balance right, or applying the laws equally (because “those in power” are biased or weak), then there is a problem, but it is of a different nature, and requires different solutions. But this should not be used to reject a good principle, which should apply equally to all nasty groups, whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, black, white, etc. To me the BNP is as nasty as the Islamists and the extreme, right-wing Jewish groups. The only difference is that the BNP is native (if by this we mean possession of Anglo-Saxon roots), but that does not make them less nasty.
PS I, a bloody foreigner myself – but legally here, and contributing positively to this society (and British for a donkey years) – am of the opinion that the British, particularly the native British, have all the right to restrict immigration to their country as they see fit. However, I do not think it is right that foreigners should be demonised or attacked – they are not here as invaders and aggressors. They are here because they have either been invited or allowed to come in to do a job. Those who are here illegally are a different category, but even though, the response to them should not be by attacking them, but rather by criticising, or democratically changing, a weak or incompetent government that allowed that to happen. They should be returned home, but that should be done through a legal process and by the legitimate authorities, and not through violence by hooligans such as the BNP members or the extreme right in Northern Ireland.
*Footnote: I do not think expressing an OPINION that CRITICES open or poorly managed immigration, or the threat imposed by radical Islam, or the scientific accuracy of historical events such as the Holocaust or the Armenian Massacre or the Persecution of the Copts by Islam, or the pressure that gay groups put on Christians who regard homosexuality as a sin, or the madness of some Jewish groups that see the Palestinians as subhuman or threaten to nuke and annihilate Iran (or, on the opposite direction, Islamists who would like to nuke Israel and kill Jews), etc., – I do not think an expression of such an OPINION should be banned. Various groups will try to equate it with hate opinions, and this is what we do not want to see happening. It will signal the death of freedom of speech, research, etc. There is a huge difference between these opinions and the organised opinion that tries to inflict actual injury on other groups, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, black or white.
More corrections: attacked is attacked and not attached!
“If society allows organisation, and propagation, of opinion that incites discrimination, persecution and oppression of other groups, it invites chaos and trouble.”
Well, we ought to remember that there is no such thing as “society”, tho; there are only people. “Society” is an abstraction. You can’t go and kick “society”. It is not “society” who puts people in prison. “Society” does nothing; it’s an abstraction. It is people who do all these things. It isn’t all people; it is some specific people, named Bill and Harry etc.
So what is really being said here is “If **some people with power** allow….”. This is not a small difference.
When those people start referring to themselves as an abstraction it only means that they want to do something unpopular and avoid being blamed for it.
I would want to know who these people are, who decide what we are allowed to say, think, etc.
I don’t agree, incidentally. I don’t want to see a list of such opinions, permissible and impermissible. I am certain that the people who don’t want to be named will merely ensure that their opinions are on the “not to be criticised” list. We need to remove such lists.