‘Racial aggravation’ dropped in FB case


7:55 pm - March 20th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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Police have dropped charges of ‘racial aggravation’ against teenager Azhar Ahmed at court today, for comments he posted on Facebook last week.

He is now being charged under the Communications Act 2003 with ‘sending a message that was grossly offensive’ on March 8.

He has denied the charge, according to The Yorkshire Post.

So that means if you say anything the police deem ‘grossly offensive’ on social media you can be hauled up in court.

Here was his comment

The story nevertheless has a strong racial element to it – the English Defence League are trying to use it for political gain and organised a mini-rally outside the court.

There was a large police presence outside court as around 50 far-right protesters staged a noisy demonstration when the defendant arrived and left.

The case continues.
(hat tip @steveplrose)

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


“Grossly offensive”?
Police, I am almost disappointed that you seem to have overlooked my blog for Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/diamond-jubilee-elizabeth-ii/

And there is probably a lot more “grossly offensive” stuff on my blog.
Whoa, I better run before Scotland Yard raid my home…

So one can be arrested for saying anything grossly offensive? I find that idea ten times more offensive than what Azhar Ahmed said on his tweet.

The right to dissent includes the right to be offensive, as no matter what you do you will offend people if you dare to dissent from conventional political or social norms / views.

I could get arrested for calling Parliament a nest of Treasonous Vipers (and God only knows, I do say that often enough to become a catch-phrase…), but I MEAN IT.

Just for reference, sec 127 of the Act in full:

.Improper use of public electronic communications network

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he— .
(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or .
(b) causes any such message or matter to be so sent. .

(2) A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he— .
(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false, .
(b) causes such a message to be sent; or .
(c) persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network. .

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both. .

(4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to anything done in the course of providing a programme service (within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42)).

It does seem pretty extraordinary to be prosecuting under this offence. As Andreas suggests, a lot of blogs would fall foul of it if the same attention was paid to them.

It’s also worth noting that under the terms of this offence Sunny could be said to have acted illegally by publishing the allegedly offensive material on this site.

Truly a Spartacus action, Sunny.

I have expanded a bit on my comment #1 and included this piece on my blog: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/communications-act-2005/, of course with a hat tip to “Liberal Conspiracy”.

I think the only way to get laws like these changed is to over-use them, by us bloggers filing charges against each other. If the police and the CPS will be swamped with these cases, it will show the silliness of such a vague law.

I wonder if those who brought the charges don’t get on to the internet much. An internet virgin might think those remarks are “grossly offensive” but start commenting and moderating and you’d think them quite mild. I’ve had worse chucked at me, and I bet Sunny gets more than this every week.

I find this pouncing on cybermouths and charging them extremely disturbing.

7. So Much For Subtlety

The question is not whether these comments are offensive or not. The question is whether the State ought to try to ban them.

I think not. The racially-aggravating laws ought to go too. They are far more offensive than anything this idiot has said.

We are not children. We do not need minute-by-minute monitoring by Nanny to make sure we behave well.

He is now being charged under the Communications Act 2003 with ‘sending a message that was grossly offensive’ on March 8.

This isn’t attempting the old trick of ‘outlandish accusation’ – *outrage* – ‘reasonable in comparison accusation’ – *sighs of relief* is it? Because it sure as fuck looks like it.
I can think of a few reasons why the police might want to try and set this sort of precedent, most of them to do with the new ideology of total policing.

The police have also created a real incident out of a silly cyber one.
This guy is now in danger as they outed him and the Yorkshire Post put his picture in the paper. They also gave the EDL something to protest about.

Don’t the police and the CPS have anything better to do with their time? Time for some grown up policy making.

This just joins a long list of attempts by the police to use badly drafted legislation (why was there so much of it during the Blair years?) to stifle offensive but legitimate speech in public – Muslims attacking soldiers, Christians attacking gays, Atheists attacking fundamentalists, political activists attacking their opponents. n a free society people should have the right to offend people. People DO NOT have the right not to be offended.

12. Anna Walters

I’ve seen far worse comments retweeted from the EDL Facebook page. I’ve read far worse on the Daily Mail comment boards! In fact there are so many people posting grossly offensive things all over the internet right now half the population could be charged under The Communications Act. I only wish the English wasn’t so painfully bad :-(

13. Chaise Guevara

@ 12 Anna

“In fact there are so many people posting grossly offensive things all over the internet right now half the population could be charged under The Communications Act. ”

The Daily Mash summed this problem up quite well by covering a story about a man being convicted for abusive trolling with the title: Uh Oh, Says Everyone On Internet.

I really worry about laws like this, which (aside from the free speech angle) it appears that most of the population are arguably guilty of, but 99.9% of people are never charged. It suggests that the police can use them to harrass people they dislike, turning discretion into a weapon.

I mean, what it comes down to is whether or not a court agrees your comments were “grossly” offensive. That’s hardly a clear-cut rule, is it? I could claim I found the expression of mainstream right-wing views “grossly offensive” if I wanted to. Or that I was grossly offended by people who say that Oasis are better than Blur.

Anyone who supported hate speech legislation has complicity in this farce and in the general clamping down on civil liberties. Anyone want to defend the twitterer on that bolton player too?

15. Man on Clapham Omnibus

I think the sad thing about this is ,despite the poor use of English he is pretty spot on about how the deaths of those Afgans and previously Iraquis have been underplayed in comparrison with the death of British solidiers. The fact remains that both wars ,presented as a necessary sanitising imperative, were illegal and whilst many celebrate the temporay benifits of post collonialism to the West, it is nonetheless an invasion by force of someone elses land. It is therefore, unsurprising that some of them decide to shoot back.

As to the people in the British army ,whilst I have every sympathy with them,they are nonetheless willing pawns in this process. If someone joins the British army without an expectation that they might be called upon to kill other human beings then those recruits clearly havent assessed the reality of their choices.

In my view the Police are following ,albeit haphazardly, a continuity of the same agressive ideology on the home front. This is why the police do not ,at this point seem willing to prosecute those incinting the murder of this hapless individual.

Anyone want to defend the twitterer on that bolton player too?

Oh that’s intresting. I hadn’t haeard of it, but just googled ”Muamba twitter racist.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17434587

This will keep the police in work for decades to come. Arresting people for making stupid twitter comments. It’ll end up like that Sylvester Stallone film ”Demolition Man” where even swearing in the street would be picked up by a nearby microphone and an eletronic voice would tell you you had committed an offence and incured a fine.

@damon

Its seems to be going that way, I just hope for everyones sake no one invents those sea shells for the toilet.

18. Chaise Guevara

@ 16 damon

“This will keep the police in work for decades to come. Arresting people for making stupid twitter comments.”

It would have been helpful (indeed competent) of the BBC to actually let readers know what he said. But I doubt I’d approve of the case anyway. I don’t think we should be punishing people merely for being offensive, let along maintaining a list of special topics that are extra-offensive and more likely to get you in trouble. People should only be prosecuted for this stuff if it falls under more reasonable offences like harrassment, libel/slander, or deliberate and serious attempts to incite criminal violence.

“It’ll end up like that Sylvester Stallone film ”Demolition Man” where even swearing in the street would be picked up by a nearby microphone and an eletronic voice would tell you you had committed an offence and incured a fine.”

Couldn’t find the story with a lazy google, but wasn’t there that guy who was arrested because a police officer *overheard* him use a naughty swear? Not that this would reflect official policy, but still…

*Gassing
*Families
*Enemies
*Families (again)
*Fucking
*Soldier’s
*That’s

His grammar is all I found offensive.

20. john P reid

9damon, i didn’t know that Protesting by the EDl (or anyone ) was A real incident, regarding the papers publishing his photo, unless he’s up for a murder charge the press are allowed to publish phot’os and name of people that the police arrest

I’ve already had a charge under s127 for writing a tweet which was ‘of a grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character’ – it wasn’t specified which.
It was a tweet about a neighbouring council who had been treating me and my neighbours with contempt for some months. I wrote that I hoped they would all die a hideous death. Cue police charge and – what the council really wanted – banned from contacting the council. I was then doorstepped by the Sun, who said they got the details (including personal details) from the police.
That was last July. The trial was set for Nov and postponed. The charge was finally dropped a few days ago after a ‘review’ by the Procurator Fiscal (I’m in Scotland).
The tweet wasn’t sent to the council and they didn’t follow me. It became evident that they were surreptitiously monitoring my account, presumably because I was campaigning against them.
Careful what you tweet, folks – there’s always someone out there just waiting to pounce.

How about we use some common sense on these matters? It’s not illegal to be a dickhead which Azhar Ahmed clearly was. He may have had some points to make about the war but any time you get that agitated and (metaphorically I assume) wish for people to die etc your entire message is undermined.

Incidents like this should need to be really extremely serious to become criminal matters.

23. Phillip Myers

How is this even offensive? I thought he had a reasonable point to make – he just phrased it rather badly. It’s essentially a comment on the injustice of the British army occupying Afghanistan and their actions whilst doing so, and an advocation of the death penalty for the behaviour of said soldiers.

Not offensive unless you’re one of these people who glorifies the military to such an extent that you can’t accept even the tiniest piece of criticism thrown their way.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Violating Section 127 of the UK Communications Act 2003 | The Happy Hermit

    […] tip to the Liberal Conspiracy blog which is a case in point: although I disagree with a whole lot of what is being written on […]

  2. Ben Coleman

    If you write something online that others might find 'grossly offensive', you may end up in court http://t.co/xpaAa0wp

  3. Paul Wiltshire

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  4. Ralph Lucas

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  5. Ian Beveridge

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  6. Top Science Tweets

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  7. Jonathan Wood

    If you write something online that others might find 'grossly offensive', you may end up in court http://t.co/xpaAa0wp

  8. Bryn Davies

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  9. Rachel Briggs

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  10. Davina Gifford

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  11. lisa sugiura

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  12. CathyR

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  13. top_tw_science

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  14. Phil Wane

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  15. Laura Hall

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  16. Intermanaut

    RT @bengoldacre i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/VwbsxPhL

  17. Denny

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  18. Steve Cook

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  19. Graham Linehan

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  20. Keir beales

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  21. Patrick Shelton

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  22. jacr13

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  23. An Rúiseach

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  24. bohaynowell

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  25. Boo

    @BruRico_Cortez http://t.co/FQPuMfeS

  26. steve danger

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  27. Pete Crowe

    “@Glinner: Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/jgxqd3ib” – #ffs #goodbyefreespeech

  28. Godchecker HQ

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  29. Daniel Kenny

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  30. Owen Blacker

    Ridiculous case. RT @libcon 'Racial aggravation' dropped in Facebook case http://t.co/7JF6pJZg

  31. Racco

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  32. EarthAD

    RT @Glinner: Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/YhanzEV9 << they (cont) http://t.co/x3wV6wS4

  33. tony white

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  34. Phil

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  35. G*

    So being grossly offensive on the net could be criminal? Jan Moir and Melanie Phillips take heed… http://t.co/aHSsjGTH

  36. Ben O'Donnell

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  37. Barry Collins

    The kid who got arrested for a "grossly offensive" Facebook post, here's what he posted: http://t.co/Z4oxnCIH

  38. D MacGille-Mhuire

    ‘Racial aggravation’ dropped in Facebook case | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/vVvesHVm via @libcon

  39. Adam Campbell

    Teen charged for FB comment. “@Glinner: Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/zCOLIo1k”

  40. Richard Stratton

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  41. Greg Smith

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  42. paradoja

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  43. Roy

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  44. Davey

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  45. GetIntoZeChoppa

    Doesn't 127(2) criminialise trolling? This all seems so very silly. (IANAL, etc.) Prompted to read this by http://t.co/JVOUpOPW

  46. Chris Butler

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  47. Danielle Gaudet

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  48. QOFE

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  49. Elaine

    'Racial aggravation' dropped in Facebook case http://t.co/sJNuuydx

  50. Brian McCardie

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  51. Paul Gibbons

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  52. Steve Hubball

    We may not like what he posted on FB, and he sounds like an arse, but we shouldn't prosecute people for their opinions http://t.co/YMkwfCZb

  53. Dana Sullivan Kilroy

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  54. Sheun

    'Racial aggravation' dropped in Facebook case | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/3XYDWxBV

  55. Evelyn Pounds

    'Racial aggravation' dropped in Facebook case | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/sCuuw5Lg

  56. Abbey Ogundimu

    'Racial aggravation' dropped in Facebook case | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Jpo8H5H8

  57. itsAbbywealth

    'Racial aggravation' dropped in Facebook case | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/t1cV6Htb

  58. Eve Franks

    'Racial aggravation' dropped in Facebook case | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/4Dc8SsPp

  59. PCSCompaniesHouse

    Careful with those political opinions, folks. http://t.co/njqKdyjq

  60. Mike Freeman

    ‘Racial aggravation’ dropped in Facebook case | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/WaOVCh4k via @libcon

  61. sacha

    i think we seriously need to grow up about the graffiti that angry people scribble on social media http://t.co/qNIr0DHb

  62. sunny hundal

    @Reet_Good @lolgrant7 @antoniabance ends up with stuff like this http://t.co/81XkDjKs

  63. Foul-mouthed tirades and the public interest « Though Cowards Flinch

    […] and some very local to him, killed in Afghanistan.  The Public Order 1986 charge against him has been dropped – presumably as there was no explicitly racial element in what he wrote – and he has […]

  64. Adam Dolan

    @princesspiece The terrifyingly Orwellian world we now live in: http://t.co/Sg9UGmXv http://t.co/Q0C5HStG

  65. Adam Dolan

    Remember- "if you say anything the police deem ‘grossly offensive’ on social media you can be hauled up in court." http://t.co/Sg9UGmXv

  66. sunny hundal

    @tkingdoll perhaps but I know other such cases where police have charged someone with same offence for 'nasty words' http://t.co/81XkDjKs

  67. Tweeter prosecuted for swearing | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] over a Facebook message about British soldiers. That charge was later dropped and he was charged with writing a ‘grossly offensive’ message on his Facebook wall under the Communications Act […]

  68. Swearing on Twitter – Blogger & tweeter prosecuted, may get 6 months jail « Goaty's News

    […] […]





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