Friday, 17 August 2012

Free speech riot


So, big butch Vlad doesn’t like a bunch of punky girls singing songs about what a dictator he is? Well who’d have put money on that?

Three members of Pussy Riot have been convicted of ‘hooliganism’ and sentenced to two years in jail, as Russia proves, once again, that it isn’t up to much on the old free speech front.

And, of course, all right-minded Western liberals are appalled.

Which is rather amusing, in some ways.

Will the same people now be demanding that anyone charged, tried and fined – or imprisoned – in the UK for making offensive comments on social media now be freed or have their convictions quashed and their fines returned?

Nobody has a right not to be ‘offended’.

If we condemn Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church for this outcome – for being ‘offended’ on the basis of politics or religion or both – then we cannot then demand for someone who spouts opinions that we dislike to be criminalised for that.

We’ve come a long way in the last few years in the UK.

When Peter Tatchell stood up and interrupted a sermon by the then Archbishop of Canterbury in 1998 to condemn his homophobia, there was widespread outrage.

It’s difficult to imagine the same degree of condemnation occurring now.

Yet the rise in social media has caused something even more concerning, with a concomitant rise in ‘oh, they said something we don’t like – let’s launch a Twitterfork mob attack or have the person arrested and charged by the law’.

Talk of ‘freedom of speech’ is cheap – until it comes to defending the right of someone to say things that you dislike; or at least not trying to stop them having a right to say such things.

It’s really that simple.

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