In April 2016, Markus Meechan, a Scottish YouTuber known as Count Dankula, uploaded a video of himself teaching his girlfriend’s dog to respond to the phrases “Sieg Heil” and “Gas the Jews” by doing a Roman salute. The purpose of the video, aimed at his girlfriend and his approximately 100 subscribers at the time, was to, as Meechan put it, “turn [her dog] into the least cute thing [he] could think of, which is a Nazi.” Seventeen days later, Meechan was arrested by the authorities after his video went viral.
Meechan went on to spend the next two years fighting in a court deprived of a jury. The charge? His videos were of an anti-Semitic nature and were meant to incite racial hatred. After multiple delays, on March 20th, 2018, he was found guilty of being “grossly offensive” under section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act. Although Meechan argued in court that his video was only meant to be a joke, the judge pronounced its content to be humorless. While his sentence remains to be pronounced on April 23rd, his case set a dangerous precedent in the United Kingdom that has many British citizens and international observers worried.
It should be absolutely clear that this is an unprecedented assault upon the principle of freedom of expression and speech. If all it takes to be charged as a criminal in Britain is an off-color joke directed at the wrong person and then to have the misfortune of facing a puritanical judge, then no one is free to express themselves. When a government prevents an individual to speak their mind, no matter how untasteful one’s mind might be, it desecrates our long-held tradition of upholding essential liberties such as freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press.
You might believe that such freedoms should be restricted so as to limit hateful and disgusting opinions, but I’d ask you to consider: would you still be on board with such laws if they might be wielded by your political adversaries? What one describes as a disgusting opinion or joke is an extremely subjective landscape that shouldn’t be restricted by anyone, regardless of political leaning. To quote Justin Little, an American writer and amateur journalist, “The fact that the government isn’t cracking down on you specifically yet makes you lucky, not free”.
Victor Angelo De Vasconcelos
Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol. 47 Issue 12 on April 11, 2018