Freedom of expression includes the right to offend
21 Mar 2018

Index on Censorship condemns the decision by a Scottish court to convict a comedian of a “hate crime” for teaching his girlfriend’s dog a Nazi salute.

Mark Meechan, known as Count Dankula, was found guilty on Tuesday of being “grossly offensive,” under the UK’s Communications Act of 2003. Meechan could be sentenced with up to six months in prison and be required to pay a fine.

Index disagrees fundamentally with the ruling by the Scottish Sheriff Appeals Court. According to the Daily Record, Judge Derek O’Carroll ruled: “The description of the video as humorous is no magic wand. This court has taken the freedom of expression into consideration. But the right to freedom of expression also comes with responsibility.”

Defending everyone’s right to free speech must include defending the rights of those who say things we find shocking or offensive

Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg said: “Numerous rulings by British and European courts have affirmed that freedom of expression includes the right to offend. Defending everyone’s right to free speech must include defending the rights of those who say things we find shocking or offensive. Otherwise the freedom is meaningless.”

One of the most noted judgements is from a 1976 European Court of Human Rights case, Handyside v. United Kingdom, which found: “Freedom of expression…is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population”.

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Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.

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16 responses to “Freedom of expression includes the right to offend”

  1. Mike Haseler says:

    I find the judges comments grossly offensive.

    I presume he will now hand himself into the police for prosecution.

    • A Jew says:

      1) To state the obvious, I think you are being disingenuous. I don’t believe you actually found the judges comments grossly offensive.

      2) It’s not about your or my subjective right not to be offended. Of course we can be offended, grossly or otherwise. It’s about whether in the objective opinion of a judge the communication in question was grossly offensive. The reason why grossly offensive communications are illegal in this country is the same as the reason why leaving dog mess in the streets is illegal – it’s disrespectful and degrading to the public as a whole. Repeating the phrase “gas the Jews” 22 times is grossly offensive precisely because it was said in jest, and paves the way for plausible deniability of such hate speech by people who do not speak in jest such as this neo Nazi who, like the rest of the alt-right straddles jocular cynicism with heartfelt hate. As all racists do.

      It is precisely because of the centrality of speech to political discourse that it is protected, and it is precisely because of the centrality of speech to political discourse that grossly offensive communications should be illegal.

  2. Joe Muggs says:

    Dear IoC, why are you deliberately misrepresenting this case? By saying he was convicted of “teaching his girlfriend’s dog a Nazi salute”, you continue the pattern of most media reports of removing the racially-aggravated element of the case (chanting “gas the Jews” 22 times!). The defendant is a well-known alt-right figurehead and the judge clearly found his “only joking!” defence unconvincing. If he had chanted “lynch the n____rs” while standing in front of videos of Klan rallies, you would probably think that’s worthy of note, wouldn’t you/

    • Hector Haddow says:

      Find me one video where he advocates for ethnostates? he’s not alt right in fact he’s spoken in opposition of the alt right.

    • No U says:

      Way to be a hypocrite and deliberately misprepresent the person in question.

    • Daniel Henderson says:

      He’s not, Joe. Had you actually watched his material, you would have known that he’s not alt-right. Your use of the word “chanting” makes you look incredibly disingenuous too. You know very well it was nowhere *near* that.

      Please Joe. Stop lying, Meechin made a joke to piss off his girlfriend by making her into the least desirable thing. You might not like the execution of the joke, but that doesn’t give you the right to slander him.

    • Uhh No. says:

      Meechan’s “gas the Jews” line was NOT racially aggravated. You are quoting a line from a comedic skit that was not meant to be taken seriously, regardless of how many times it was said. This case sets an extremely dangerous precedent for comedy and dark humor. Meechan is also absolutely NOT alt-right, as he discusses in a few of his videos, his politics are largely center-left. His resistance to SJW dogma and far-left politics however has earned him the accusations of being far-right, like everyone else doing so.

    • Sam Carleton says:

      Calling it deliberate misrepresentation is a major stretch. Yes, he used that phrase. However, context matters- a bit of gradeschool common sense that you and the judge apparently both fail to grasp. He made a shocking comedy video where invoking the horrors of the holocaust is the punchline. Using a deliberately shocking phrase related to that comes with the territory, whether you personally find it funny or not. The punishment for such humour should be embarrassment, not bloody prison time.

      He is also in no way a “well-known alt-right figurehead”(before this case he wasn’t really ‘known’ at all,) nor is he even openly right-wing to the best of my knowledge. There is no basis for that libelous statement aside from the poorly-researched character-assassination hitpieces written by those in favour of this ridiculous verdict (fun fact: he was pro-communist when he was younger, and has a tattoo he regrets to prove it). You and I don’t have to agree with his political affiliations or think his joke was particularly tasteful, but there is nothing anti-semetic about it beyond the very surface-level view you’re taking of it. And yes, of course it would be noteworthy if he stood in front of a video of a racist hate group and repeated their rhetoric. But he didn’t do that. He didn’t even do anything close to it. What a strange, disingenuous comparison for you to make. He even establishes in the first moments of the video that the entire reason he’s making his pug a nazi is because “nazis are the least cute thing he could think of”. Pretty odd thing for a fan of nazis to say, don’t you think?

    • Cristian Yanford says:

      It’s a crappy joke, that’s all it is. Stop being a sad sack. I’m Jewish, I found it extremely funny. Sure, it was a horrible thing in history but he said he was going to teach his dog the most non cute thing there is, and that was it.

    • Frank Fisher says:

      So fucking what?

    • You're daft. says:

      Right back at ya, mate. The Alt-Right hates Meechan, and the court admitted to ignoring the context of the video and the explanation of why he made the video at the beginning of said video.

  3. Tucker Kratz says:

    What’s being done to Mark Meechan is illegal as well as appalling! While I don’t appreciate “raw” humor, I found his video funny. My other concern is the censorship of anything regarding Christianity. The Bible does tell us this would eventually happen, but I refuse to go down without a fight! Free speech, freedom of religion, etc., is all being taken away & I say: THIS WILL NOT STAND!

  4. A Jew says:

    There is a difference between offensive and grossly offensive. I

    t’s the difference between something which potentially could have set a precedent for this man to hold his anti Jewification rallies up and down the country where he would “have a gas”. I don’t doubt that this idiot had no intention of gassing Jews, or for that matter, that actual neo Nazis plan on gassing Jews. That’s not the point. This discourse moves the frame of acceptable discourse to a jumping off point convenient for those who will engage in violence. Liberals shouldn’t be shy about meeting societal threats to a liberal order illiberally. I think this case should result in something more like an ASBO than a prison sentence (I accept that the man get his Jew baiting laughs unconsciously rather than with malice aforethought). But I cannot accept an inevitable drift into a world in which anti Jewification events are acceptable (only ironic and artistic ones of course).

    My right to life and liberty in a society and country which has so often denied it because of who I am (the original blood libel was English; the edict of expulsion; the York massacre) supercedes the right of useful idiots to pave the way through their grossly offensive freedom of expression into denying it.

    • Frank Fisher says:

      Don’t care if you are “a jew”. You do not get veto over anyone’s speech. You do not get to claim that a speech is violence. You do not get to erase the distinction between speech and violence. Now, go away and stop trying to justify gagging people you disagree with.

      • A Jew says:

        So do you support the freedom to have a gas at anti Jewification events?

  5. David says:

    The killing of free speech by the abuse of the communications act 2003 created by Labour used the police in Airdrie to ruin a mans life and jail him for a joke meme. is entirely due to the labour parties “communications act 2003” the most abused vile piece of trash ever passed into law. It should be repealed, printed out and nailed to the doors of westminster as a warning to all who would think of ever sleepwalking into state censorship.