Free speech in Britain not dead; just gut-shot

I’m telling you, George Orwell was a prophet:

Neil Phillips said he was fingerprinted, DNA-swabbed and had his computers seized.

The 44-year-old was held after posting: “My PC takes so long to shut down I’ve decided to call it Nelson Mandela.”

Another read: “Free Mandela – switch the power off.”

But police swooped after a councillor complained over the gags about the former South African leader, who passed away on Thursday, aged 95.

Mr Phillips who insisted he meant no harm, said: “It was an awful experience. I was fingerprinted, they took DNA and my computer.

“It was a couple of jokes, Bernard Manning type,” he added. “There was no hatred. What happened to freedom of speech? I think they over-reacted massively.”

Mr Phillips, who runs Crumbs sandwich shop in Rugeley, Staffs, was arrested after complaints by [local councilor] Tim Jones about the one-liners, aired when the anti-apartheid hero was critically ill.

Mr. Phillips “crime,” aside from telling some mildly tasteless jokes, is that he broke the 1986 Public Order Act (1), which, among other things, makes it an offense to say things that others might find insulting and distressing. And because a local pol was “offended,” Phillips was hauled in and treated like an enemy of the state.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we get our traditions of free speech from that very same island, where now an off-color joke means an official knock at the door?

Via Charles Cooke, who has this to say about the state of liberty in his former country:

In other words, Section 5 [of the POA] allows anybody to have anybody else investigated for speaking. And they have. The arrests have run the gamut: from Muslims criticizing atheists to atheists critcizing Muslims; from a young man who told a police officer that his horse was “gay” to protesters criticizing Scientology; from a Christian arguing against homosexuality on the street to a man arrested and charged with offending a chaplain. I’ll give them this: The British are at least thorough with their suppression. 

Cooke points out that, after public outrage, the law has been amended to ban prosecutions for insulting people, but only if no particular victim can be identified. A real blow for liberty, that. It’s also a good example of why we should zealously guard our own 1st Amendment; we all know pols and academics here who’d love to have a similar law in the name of “respecting each other’s feelings.”

Britain’s Glorious Revolution resulted in the English Bill of Rights, forerunner to our own. Maybe it’s time they had another.

Footnote:
(1) Passed under Margaret Thatcher? Really?

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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One Response to Free speech in Britain not dead; just gut-shot

  1. Trimegistus says:

    Seems to me a Briton with some time to kill and a mean streak could put every single public figure on the island in jail within a week.

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