Monday, September 17, 2012

Yet another attempt to apply old laws to new situations

On Friday Azhar Ahmed was convicted of posting an offensive Facebook message regarding the deaths British soldiers. According to the judge his remarks were

"derogatory, disrespectful and inflammatory"
Ah yes it's my old favourite good old section 127 of the Communications Act.

Okay so saying we should rise up and kill all the soldiers is a bit... oh wait he didn't; he said:
"All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL!"
So that's expressing an opinion and not a wish, okay but it was still inflammatory to post that on the families Facebook pages... oh wait he didn't, he posted it on his own page and it was seen by one of the families and it was then subsequently copied around the internet.

So this is the high-tech equivalent of someone in the pub stating to his friends that "the only good lawyer is a dead lawyer", being overheard by the parent of a recently deceased lawyer, having said remark spread around, and then being arrested, charged, and convicted.

Except that would not happen because there is no law regarding "grossly offensive" speech. The closest is "Hate speech" which is governed by section 18 of the Public Order Act such that:

A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if— (a)he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or (b)having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.
with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act adding:
A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he— (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
In other words if he'd said this they would have to prove his intent was to provoke hatred, but because he sent it in a message all they have to do is prove that 'the majority' would consider that the people or person about whom it was made would themselves find it "grossly offensive".

To add to the lunacy the way it's handled means that this applies to anyone in the world. If anyone using the internet posts a similar message that can be viewed by a UK citizen they could be arrested if they choose to visit; hell in theory we could ask for them to be extradited for the 'offence'.

I'd say it was a joke, but it's a joke that's got a 19 year old kid sentenced for something that wouldn't have been a crime had he simply said it out loud.

It's about time Parliament woke up to the 21st Century in which speech and 'messages' are considered to be identical to those living in these times.