Sunday, March 25, 2018

Free Count Dankula

It’s official: jokes can now land you in prison. Markus Meechan – known on YouTube as Count Dankula – has been found guilty in a Scottish court of law for the crime of hate speech and breaching the electronic communications act. His arrest followed a viral online video in which Meechan can be seen encouraging his girlfriend’s pug to give a Nazi salute and to respond enthusiastically to the phrase ‘gas the Jews’. His sentence will be passed at Airdrie Sheriff Court on 23 April.

The intention behind the video is unambiguously comedic; the very concept of a Nazi pug could hardly be interpreted otherwise. This has not stopped Sheriff Derek O’Carroll, the judge presiding over this case, from finding Meechan guilty and declaring that ‘the description of the video as humorous is no magic wand’. Without wishing to resort to stereotypes, I can think of no one less qualified to assess the merits of comedy than the Scottish judiciary.

The notion that free speech is not under threat in this country is no longer a sustainable claim. Meechan may not be the first to be prosecuted for offensive jokes, but his case sets a particularly dangerous precedent by which even professional comedians might be criminalised for their material. This kind of gradual authoritarianism has already emerged in Canada, where comedian Mike Ward was fined $42,000 by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal for telling a joke about a disabled boy. The seemingly unstoppable rise of offence culture, largely fuelled by social media, means that the UK is unlikely to be far behind.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Free speech doesn't exist in Britain and hasn't for some time. Are you aware that 2 men were imprisoned in 2010 for handing out comic books. The same UK politicians who made a cause celebre of the Mohammed cartoon case either remained silent or supported their jailing -
These are the cartoons which caused them to be sent to prison. Some may find them in bad taste or offensive but those excuses weren't allowed in the Mohammed cartoon case -
This is especially sickening coming after the Je Suis Charlie incident where hypocritical politicians praised freedom of expression.