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The well-meaning Free Speech crackdown April 20, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Culture, European Politics, Film and Television, Freedom of speech, media, Media and Journalism.
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Some time ago, I posted about the announcement from the German Presidency of the EU that they were proposing to:

“make it an offence to publicaly incite ‘discrimination, violence or hatred against a group of persons or members of a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin’. It would also allow for the punishment of ‘public condoning, denial or trivialisation of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes’.”

At the time, as Smiffy (Of this parish) pointed out, it seemed unlikely the Germans would be able to get unanimity on a measure so blatantly designed to infringe on free speech and to restrict historical debate. Regrettably, according to the EU Observer, the EU has agreed a ‘breakthrough hate-crime law’. Jamie Smyth of the Irish Times also has a piece on it here but subscription is required.

After six years of debate, a compromise has been hammered out that will means offenders will face up to three years in prison for “public incitement to violence or hatred, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.”

The same punishment will apply to those people “publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,”. The definition of what is genocide or a war crime will be left up to the International Criminal Court. Statewatch has some more background in it’s briefing ahead of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting here.

Part of the ‘compromise’, is that member states can allow debate on controversial matters in a controlled environment. Marvellous. Or as Smyth puts it in the Irish Times: ” Irish historians can debate the existence or scope of the Holocaust if they are not provoking public disorder.” Perhaps, they will need to be licensed historians. If Smiffy and I for example, were to debate the existence or scope of the Holocaust on a website, such as this one for example, are we ‘historians’, and if our debate prompts, without any intention to do so, public disorder, are we likely to face the possibility of three years in prison. Frankly, I’m too pretty to go to prison.

Also interesting that efforts by Poland and a number of other eastern European states to give up their demands to include the crimes of Stalinism within the Bill. Instead, the EU is to organise high-profile debates on totalitarian regimes and their crimes in Europe, though how this is to be done is not made clear. The EU Commission as a college debate soc.

It is now necessary for me to state the following. I accept the Holocaust, in which over six million Jews and countless more homosexuals, gypsies, communists, trade unionists and Slavs were murdered by the Nazi state in an act of genocide. Furthermore, I am opposed to discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, creed, colour, nationality and so on. But I also defend the right of people to challenge historical facts, such as the Holocaust, nor do I trust governments to legislate appropriately in terms of what is ‘incitement’.

Graham Watson, Liberal Democrat MEP and leader of the Liberal Group in the EU Parliament, has already been out attacking the initiative:  “The proposed list risks opening the floodgates on a plethora of historical controversies – like the crimes of the Stalinist regime or the alleged Armenian genocide – whose inclusion could pose a grave threat to freedom of speech. The EU has no business legislating on history.” Some good points, with the exception of his reference to the Armenian genocide as ‘alleged’. He’s entitled to his opinion (For now) but the arguments that a genocide took place are very convincing.

As well-meaning as this Directive, to be transposed into national law within the next two years, might be, it is a restriction on the right of a person to say what he or she wants or believes, and to convince others of the merits of that position. It is a licence to government to crack down on beliefs, or the articulation of beliefs, that it finds morally, socially, culturally or politically unacceptable.

And that’s dangerous, regardless of how acceptable your current beliefs might be to the people who will be deciding what is, and is not, acceptable in the future.

Comments»

1. Mark Waters - April 20, 2007

“make it an offence to publically incite ‘discrimination, violence or hatred against a group of persons or members of a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin’. It would also allow for the punishment of ‘public condoning, denial or trivialisation of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes’.”
That’s wide open to abuse by government to suppress opinions they don’t like. It could even be used against those who advocated war in Iraq (although just as easily and more likely it could be applied against those who opposed the war).

Also, if this thing was made law would it be possible to advocate for the removal of the law without breaking the law itself?

These laws are always counter productive. Section 31 actually helped Sinn Féin and the IRA since they never had to account for their actions or argue their case.

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2. franklittle - April 20, 2007

I agree absolutely Mark that this is wide open to abuse by governments to suppress opinions contrary to ‘accepted wisdom’ under the cover of fighting hate speech. Interesting point about changing the law though I suspect the problem is once EU Directives have been agreed, changing them is extremely difficult. Bear in mind this Directive took six years of negotiation.

I’d dispute whether Section 31 helped Sinn Féin, though whether it did or not is irrelevant to the merits of the provision. I think it contributed to the animosity towards that party in the South, but more importantly, I think exactly because they never had to ‘account for their actions’ that it delayed the evolution of the Peace Process.

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3. cearta.ie » Blog Archive » Holocaust Denial in the EU - April 20, 2007

[…] (20 April 2007): There is a typically incisive post today over on Cedar Lounge Revolution on this development; well worth […]

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4. Wednesday - April 20, 2007

the arguments that a genocide took place [in Armenia] are very convincing.

I agree, but there are certainly plenty of other far less clear-cut cases. What is this law saying – that if the ICC decides it was genocide, it’s illegal to say that it wasn’t?!

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5. Opposer of armenian terrorism - April 21, 2007

The armenian “holocaust” is an invention, a milking industry based on hearsays, victimizing some Armenians who died of war, famine, epidemics like all other. Is it any wonder the armenians started crying “genocide” after the Jews received mass reperations from the Germans ?

The armenians spend a massive amount of energy spreading genolies proopaganda.but dont seem to have it in them to file a case at the ICC. i wonder why.

It is about time they owed up to the killing, rape and torture of innocent Turks and Azeris in their bloody quest for a greater Armenian homeland .

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