9:30 am - October 12th 2012
Here’s something that really hasn’t been stressed enough: as deserved as the worldwide outcry was against the 2-year jail sentences for three members of Pussy Riot, that’s nothing compared to the 4-year stretches handed down to two young men in another authoritarian nation – namely our own.
These two men didn’t supposedly offend Orthodox sensibilities by performing their anti-Putin song in a church; all they did was set up pages on Facebook for events that didn’t take place. This was enough for the judge to describe what they did as an “evil act”.
Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan will now be over a quarter of the way through their sentences, and will hopefully be released before too much longer. As acts of stupidity go, theirs was fairly spectacular: setting up pages on Facebook advertising meeting places for riots during the hysteria of last year clearly was asking for trouble.
Nonetheless, no one turned up at either, and in Sutcliffe-Keenan’s case he always maintained it had been a joke that had badly backfired. For the two to be sentenced to terms far in excess of what others who actually took part in the riots received was an overreaction of quite staggering proportions. That their appeal against the length of their sentences was also rejected is a stain on the justice system.
Yet this week has seen two more such cases prosecuted, neither of which should have ever reached a court. Azhar Ahmed was more fortunate than Matthew Woods, although not by much. Earlier in the year Ahmed was moved in the aftermath of the deaths of four servicemen in Afghanistan to post an angry Facebook status update in which he said that “all soldiers should die and go to hell”.
Ahmed did not say that soldiers should be killed; and as the court presumably accepted, Ahmed afterwards apologised to those who responded to his update, saying that he hadn’t meant for anyone to be upset by it.
Despite all of this, Ahmed was convicted of sending a “grossly offensive” message, and was told by district judge Jane Goodwin that he had gone beyond the bounds of freedom of speech. He was ordered to perform 240 hours of community service over two years; by comparison, the TV presenter Justin Lee Collins was ordered this week to perform 140 hours of community service after he was found guilty of a prolonged campaign of harassment against his ex-girlfriend.
Undoubtedly worthy of less sympathy is Matthew Woods. Woods pleaded guilty earlier this week to sending a grossly offensive message after he was arrested “for his own safety”. Woods’ crime was to post jokes on his Facebook page about both April Jones and Madeleine McCann, one of which was described by magistrate Bill Hudson as “abhorrent”. This seems to be a reference to Woods’ show-stopping gag:
What’s the difference between Mark Bridger and Santa Claus? Mark Bridger comes in April.
If delivered on a stage, it would have been worthy of boos. Posted online during a search for a child, with all the emotions surrounding such a disappearance, Hudson decided it was worthy of three months in prison.
Only Woods’ early guilty plea prevented it from being for the full six months available under the law. Earlier the same day the court fined a man £100 and ordered him to pay £100 in compensation after he called a woman who had pulled up alongside him in her car a “fucking black cunt”.
No amount of seminars between Keir Starmer, lawyers and the social networks are going to make a difference when the law was drafted at a time when the closest thing to Facebook and Twitter were Friendster and Friends Reunited. It’s also ridiculous that the onus should be placed on the social networks themselves to police what is and isn’t “grossly offensive” or “menacing” when it should be down to users to not outrage themselves.
Judges now seem to believe that prison sentences are an appropriate punishment for saying or writing things that clearly do not incite hatred of any variety but which do hurt feelings is a sad indictment of what a petty, pathetic bunch many of us appear to have become.
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at Septicisle.info on politics and general media mendacity.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Law ,Media
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Reactions: Twitter, blogs
- Lee Griffin
Another shameful day of silence from @LibDems about this issue? http://t.co/RgEm2XGc
- Anthony Rowbottom
You think the Pussy Rioters were handed harsh sentences? What about the injustices happening right here in the UK http://t.co/rzp969pQ
- Jason Brickley
The police want a word about the names you call me http://t.co/uSTjPato
Liberal Conspiracy – The police want a word about the names you call me http://t.co/i53EWmZf
- Owen Blacker
RT @libcon The police want a word about the names you call me http://t.co/BxE0emLt
- anna-rose phipps
The police want a word about the names you call me | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/WSOk7Qxi via @libcon
- Chris Gerhard
This article contains the joke that about April Jones. Poor taste? Yes. Sick even but criminal? It should not be. http://t.co/RHWrzSz4
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