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UK Man Jailed For 'Offensive Tweets' 922

Posted by timothy
from the hate-speech-join-the-crowd dept.
Motor writes "A UK judge has jailed a man for 56 days after he posted offensive comments on twitter about a footballer who had a heart attack during a game. He's also been thrown out of his university degree course weeks from graduating. His comments may have been offensive... but do they really justify a prison sentence and ruining his life?"
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UK Man Jailed For 'Offensive Tweets'

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  • WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bonch (38532) * on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:07AM (#39485371)

    Can you really be imprisoned in the UK for posting something racially insensitive? Just because he wrote something about a soccer player people liked doesn't mean he should be arrested and sent to jail. What kind of wacky police state does the UK have that this is acceptable legal policy? Don't the police there have better things to do than be made to chase down Twitter trolls?

  • Re:WTF? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:14AM (#39485451)
    They live in the type of state envisioned in 1984 or V for Vendetta. Don't worry though, the United States isn't far behind.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:16AM (#39485483) Homepage

    If you live in the US, you can be arrested and jailed for *years*, because a policeman says he thought he smelt cannabis smoke coming from your house.

    Have a sense of perspective.

  • by zarlino (985890) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:17AM (#39485503) Homepage

    You should that countries other than the USoA have constitutions too. It might not be called "First Amendment" but there are free speech provisions in most countries.

    For example, check "Article 21" in the Italian Constitution.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:20AM (#39485535) Journal

    If you live in the US...

    While it is likely that the GP was from the USA, the fact that the USA has idiotic laws doesn't have any bearing on the fact that the UK has idiotic laws.

    If you think the law isn't idiotic, then argue about its merits. Being worse elsewhere doesn't make a bad law good, because no matter how bad it gets in the UK, it will ALWAYS be worse somewhere else.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by bonch (38532) * on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:24AM (#39485613)

    That is completely wrong. You can't be jailed for years just because a policeman says he thought he smelt marijuana from your house. If the policeman issues a search and discovers a bunch of marijuana, that's a different story. But you portray it as if you don't even have to possess the illegal drug in question to be jailed for years. As for having a sense of perspective, I consider violations of free speech to be far more egregious than violating local drug laws.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Myopic (18616) * on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:25AM (#39485649)

    Well there is an important difference, which is that the United States is at least nominally a constitutional republic, whereas the UK is a theocratic monarchy. Theocratic monarchies aren't exactly known for tolerance and freedom, although the UK does a better job with their theocratic monarchy than most other theocratic monarchies. The United States, for all its failings, is nowhere near a totalitarian society. It's okay to make such a comparison in jest, just so long as everyone knows you are joking.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:27AM (#39485683)

    Different countries have different standards. Yes, you can be imprisoned for being a racist in the UK, but in the US, well, you can pretty much kill someone because they're black and it's OK as long as you thought they were up to no good at the time.

    It's just a cultural difference.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i_ate_god (899684) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:29AM (#39485721) Homepage

    A couple of drunk twitter posts and you get jail time?

    That's maybe... taking things a little too seriously

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leathered (780018) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:30AM (#39485729)

    What jury? He was up before the local magistrates.

    What's troubling is that magistrate said that his sentence had to "reflect public abhorrence". So he decided to play to the gallery and jail him instead of considering the case on its merits.

    It's one piece of Blairite legislation that should be repealed as soon as possible. How long before it's extended to religious or political opinions?

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Entropius (188861) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:33AM (#39485799)

    That means you don't take freedom of speech seriously.

  • by rufty_tufty (888596) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:39AM (#39485891) Homepage

    But freedom of speech has always had limitations.
    The classic of example of limits on freedom of speech being you do not have the freedom to yell "FIRE" in a crowded cinema just to laugh and watch as everyone panics and tramples over each other to escape.
    Now should inciting racial hatred be in the same class of action as one likely to cause injury or death to others? In most situations I would hope that sane rational people would be annoyed by such incitement but not take it further. If however you have a situation where you say it's okay to pick on people - particularly people deemed vulnerable by society - then at some point you have to draw the line and say it's not okay. As a society/judicial system the UK has decided that it will put its foot down about these things because it wants to take a stand that racial abuse in all its forms is wrong. I don't see the problem with this.
    So let's argue that 56 days in jail is a bit extreme, let's perhaps argue that it wasn't that offensive to the person concerned (although I would argue I don't know what he could have said that was more offensive) but can we agree that there are some things that in some circumstances it is just wrong to say.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by danbeck (5706) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:42AM (#39485947)

    I don't think that word means what you think it means.

  • by Phanatic1a (413374) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:46AM (#39486001)

    He Tweeted, and I quote: "LOL, Fuck Muamba. He's dead."

    There's nothing racist in that statement. He might be an asshole, but on what basis are the elements of a charge of "inciting racial hatred" met?

    And, no, the UK doesn't have the first amendment. But the UK is a member state of the EU, and the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights specifically states that:

    "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

    The mental gymnastics required to reconcile a recognition of such a fundamental freedom with throwing a guy in jail for two months for saying "LOL, Fuck [guy]. He's dead." probably warrant at least a 9.8 from the Romanian judge.

    Seriously, this shit's disgusting, nobody can pretend anything even slightly resembling freedom of expression exists in the UK.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ossifer (703813) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:47AM (#39486023)

    Please explain the internment of UK Palestinians during the Gulf War.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ph1ll (587130) <`ph1ll1phenry' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:48AM (#39486039)

    We are a democracy in the UK. If the people don't like the law banning "incitement to racial hatred", we get rid of it.

    The freedom of speech argument is bogus. I'm fairly sure that the US has laws against slander, libel, shouting "fire!" in a crowded subway when there is none, advertising medicine as cure for cancer when there is no evidence, etc etc.

    I am not an English lawyer but wife is. She pointed out to me that England has a long history of civil peace (our last revolution was in the 1640s), a legal system that has been copied by many countries throughout the world and is the first choice for foreign companies and Russian oligarchs [ft.com] to have their cases heard. English law must be doing something right.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:52AM (#39486105) Homepage Journal

    Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences.

    Yes, it does. That's precisely what it means: that the government won't punish you for expressing an opinion. If it meant anything less than that, it'd be "freedom of speech as long as it's approved, otherwise you're going to prison" which even the most ruthless tyrants would be perfectly OK with. I mean, Vlad the Impaler would let you say anything you wanted that didn't bother him (and then impale you if you crossed the line).

    Freedom of speech doesn't mean that society won't judge you for your words. It damn well means that the government shouldn't.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @11:58AM (#39486197)

    Can't have a democratic government without freedom of speech, and that includes the right to say hateful things, for good or for ill.

    Kettle, meet pot. You're living in a country without freedom of speech right now. Look at what Homeland Security did to the Occupiers: Tanks, tear gas, mass arrests under cover of darkness, secret courts, deportation, just to name a few of the many creative things they did to punish the people who excercised their "freedom of speech". But there are many more examples, if you're one of those people that found that groundswell of democracy offensive and would prefer a more organized movement with a nice corporate logo and a spokesperson... I have a nearly inexhaustible supply of examples of civil rights violations in this country.

    The bottom line is, the UK takes racism more seriously than the US. It has a good reason to given its own (much longer history) history of racial injustice. The entire business with Israel and Palestine is mostly the fault of the British -- they have a lot to atone for. And let's not even start with the religous intolerance -- the reason why "the colonies", well, aren't anymore, and then there was that bit of trouble they had in Ireland. No, I think the British have learned a very different set of lessons than we have... but if you want to say they have less "free speech" than we do, I'd have to say you are wrong: Over there I can tell law enforcement to sod off and they will (with a stiff lip of course). Over here, it's 4 hours with the high voltage anal prober if he's in a good mood. And may God have mercy on your soul if your name is something that sounds vaguely muslim or if you're not white.

    Their justice system may be archaic, convoluted, and excessively harsh towards certain classes of anti-social behaviors, but I believe most people would gladly trade that here in exchange for national healthcare, a penal system that focuses on rehabilitation, an inherent right to privacy regarding many government processes (including the judicial branch), and a more modern infrastructure -- sewers, communication, electricity, internet, all much more modern than here in the US. Of course, a lot of that is because most of it got blown the hell up during WWII, but it is what it is. The British, on the whole, don't pretend their system is anything but what it is: It is a culture that prides itself on restraint and personal responsibility; Our culture is one of excessive indulgences and avoiding responsibility.

    Also... they have Doctor Who. The US has... er.. SyFy's Mansquito. They can also find Nigeria on a map without having to google it. :) I'd gladly take their culture in exchange for the freedom to utter a long string of racial slurs and expletives...

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:00PM (#39486227)

    Yeah, law enforcement action over twitter posts [cbslocal.com] is insane.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:04PM (#39486289) Journal

    Liam Stacey was not arrested for offensive comments. He was found guilty of inciting racial hatred.

    He was found guilty of inciting racial hatred because of the offensive comments he made. That means he was arrested for making offensive comments.

    The reality of freedom of speech (at least the US concept) is that it is not consequence free speech.

    It does mean free from legal consequences, if it is to mean anything at all.

    While the article does not mention any actual harm committed through racial insensitivity, I can only assume that someone was threatened and that the threat was taken seriously through Liam's postings.

    Why can you only assume that? There are lots of other things that you could assume, and they're likely to be a lot closer to the truth. I can only assume that the UK is an island full of big wusses who can't stand a little name calling.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:09PM (#39486377) Homepage

    "Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences."

    That's absolutely true.

    But when those "consequences" are imposed by the state, that is tyranny, and must be opposed.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by interval1066 (668936) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:19PM (#39486575) Homepage Journal
    Tell me about it. I've seen more than my share of comments from Brits here almost ALWAYS defend these ridiculous laws. And I always walk away amazed.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:22PM (#39486653) Homepage

    "you have to admire their swift justice in dealing with this situation."

    But I don't have to admire their swift injustice in dealing with it.
    Doing something stupid faster doesn't make it any less stupid.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:28PM (#39486757) Homepage Journal

    FFS, every time someone is punished for expressing a (racist, sexist, etc) opinion [...]

    ...the Constitution is shredded (assuming that the "someone" is subject to American law). I am perfectly free to say that I hate black people. You can say that women are stupid. The Westboro gang can say that God wants gays to burn in hell. Every single one of those are perfectly legal, protected, expressions of opinion that the government will not prosecute you for. That is what "freedom of speech" means.

    It gets much more complicated when those opinions are accompanied by calls for violence. If I were to carry a sign saying "kill a black person today", I should expect to find myself explaining my thought process to a judge. I am perfectly within my rights to express happiness at another person's misfortunes, though.

    To be clear, I'm speaking of legal rights, not societal tolerance. People saying things so utterly incompatible with a civil society should be corrected or shunned by the people around them. Sometimes, that may involve consequences as severe a company firing an employee who says things that reflect poorly on the company. That is entirely different from the government stepping in and prosecuting such speech, though.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by am 2k (217885) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:31PM (#39486855) Homepage

    We are a democracy in the UK. If the people don't like the law banning "incitement to racial hatred", we get rid of it.

    There is no real democracy without freedom of speech. When you aren't allowed to discuss your point of view, how are you going to discuss politics? How are you going to get your standpoint implemented when you aren't allowed to talk about them in a campaign?

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PRMan (959735) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:38PM (#39486965)
    We can't. We're afraid to say anything...
  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @12:49PM (#39487175)

    Moron. Murder by definition is not defensive.

    Moron yourself. What Zimmerman did was not self defense.

    He was in the protective environment of his car. He dialled 911, and all he had to offer by way of complain was that he looked funny, had a hoodie, and was looking around at houses whist he walked. He got out out of his car to follow Martin on foot, and the dispatcher told him not to. It's not that he stood his ground at all. He provoked an altercation by following an innocent, unarmed person and then shot him dead. That's murder, not self-defense, nor standing your ground.

    In your own house, well that's a whole different scenario.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:07PM (#39487437) Homepage Journal
    I don't get it...why should there be hate crimes at all?

    I mean, if you kill someone...they are dead. Does it matter really the reason you did it? I think not...the person is no more dead for being black/white/hispanic/chinese/gay that they would be if someone just got mad at them for banging their significant other while the killer was at work.

    The crime is murder....not the thought behind it, or at least it shouldn't be. Motive? Sure, but that explains the murder it shouldn't give a certain race or sexual orientation 'special' status which makes it a worse crime and extended punishment.

    Is it worse for a guy to kill a black guy because he's black....than for him to kill a white guy for any other reason in the world? If you think so....explain why please....both guys are equally as dead.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by justin12345 (846440) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:48PM (#39488039)
    Yes, evidently you can. The US affords much broader protection for nearly all forms of speech then the UK, or nearly any other country.

    But lets not start sucking each other's dicks just yet. For every thing the US gets right, it gets two things wrong.

    Not to mention that the free speech rights most US citizens take for granted are under constant assault. They are tested in the courts constantly. When you read about something like this happening overseas you shouldn't think, "what a bunch of backwards idiots", you should think, "I better watch out or that sort of thing could start happening here too".
  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:39PM (#39488723)

    Walk around any US city shouting Death to the Prsident and see how long your right to free speech lasts

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @02:58PM (#39488967) Homepage Journal

    It's posts like this I wish I could be alerted to each post submitted with: UID < 10000 :)

    You don't want that. I'm a dumbass most of the time.

  • Regulatory crimes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:01PM (#39488993)

    A real crime needs both an aggressor (the initiator of coercion) and a victim (the recipient of coercion). The real crime should be perfectly clear by now. The victim is the insensitive asshole, and the aggressor is government.

    Post-WW2, we live in modern regulatory states. These penalize, and sometimes criminalize, regulatory infractions. Deliberate failure to pay taxes, for example, or deliberately structuring your transactions to avoid anti-money-laundering techniques, or driving a vehicle without a license.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldepeche (854916) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:09PM (#39489093)

    I have to disagree. Punishment should be only for the crime. A person tortured, and/or killed....will result just as brutallly tortured and/or dead no matter why that person was targeted.

    The message sent by a crime like this is "If you dare to be gay here, we just might kill you." It's terrorism, in any reasonable sense of the word. The crime targets not just the person who is violently attacked, but anyone who shares that characteristic with the victim.

    If a straight guy was in place of the gay guy you mentioned in your example...he would be just as tortured and then dead as the gay guy

    No, if a straight guy was in place of the gay guy, he wouldn't have been tortured or dead, because the attackers WENT LOOKING FOR A GAY GUY TO TORTURE AND KILL. That's the whole fucking point.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chrb (1083577) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @06:28PM (#39491225)

    There are some important differences - the foreigners held by the UK during the Gulf War were allowed to leave the country if they wished (a few chose to do so). In the U.S., interned foreigners are not given that choice.

    The other difference is that the British courts already ruled in 2004 that internment of foreigners was incompatible with human rights laws, so the kind of internment that you are referring to is no longer possible. The U.S. courts have not made any similar rulings. Wikipedia: [wikipedia.org]

    "A series of legal challenges were made in respect of the powers and processes established under the ATCSA and on December 16 2004, the Law Lords ruled that the powers of detention conferred by Part 4 of ATCSA were incompatible with the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court ruled by a majority of 8–1 that the purported derogation was not authorised by Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights since the measures taken could not rationally be held to be "strictly required by the exigencies of the situation", and were also discriminatory contrary to Article 14 of the Convention.

    The ruling could be summed up as follows:

    No detention pending deportation had lasted for more than seven days, let alone three years.
    The law was unjustifiably discriminatory. What if a British citizen was also suspected of terrorism which required that they be detained indefinitely without trial? There was no way to do it.
    There was no observable state of emergency threatening the life of the nation. No other European country which had experience far more severe crises had declared such a state of emergency over such a long time period, and certainly without anyone noticing."

  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dubl-u (51156) * <2523987012@pota . t o> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @06:36PM (#39491269)

    You haven't really thought this through. Even for non-hate crimes, consider:

    • first-degree murder - premeditated intentional killing
    • second-degree murder - unplanned intentional killing
    • felony murder - accidental killing in the course of a felony,
    • voluntary manslaughter - accidentally killing somebody while trying to harm them or intentionally killing them when provoked, and
    • involuntary manslaughter - accidentally killing somebody without intent to harm (e.g., negligent homicide)

    The difference for all of these is exactly "the reason you did it". The legal term is mens rea [wikipedia.org].

    Hate crimes get an additional penalty because there's additional harm. It's an action against not just the person physically injured, but all the people of the sort of person hated. Slashdot-specific analogy: If a jock beats up another jock, it's just a fight. But if a jock beats up a nerd because he's a nerd then that will tend to intimidate not just the person he beat up, but all nerds.

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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