Freedom of expression comes under fire

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Mark Meechan was found guilty of committing a hate crime in the United Kingdom against the Jewish people and sentenced on April 23 to pay a fine of €800. He made a video, intended to be a joke and to annoy his girlfriend, in which he showcased how he’d trained his girlfriend’s pug Buddha to perform the Nazi salute (in the form of raising its paw) in response to phrases like” Sieg Heil” and to respond with excitement towards the phrase “Gas the Jews”. This verdict should be overturned and Mark Meechan be cleared of all wrong-doing.

An incident like this has happened before, ironically enough in Nazi Germany, which did charge a man from Finland, who also taught his dog the Hitler salute with ‘offending the German people’ before ultimately dropping the charge, according to the Associated Press. This  means that the U.K. has now become more authoritarian than the Nazis themselves.

Even if some people found the video offensive, it is in the end an issue of freedom of expression. If we don’t allow people to say things we don’t like, we don’t really believe in freedom of expression. Banning certain things and not others will lead to the majority censoring the minority for being “offensive” or “disruptive”.

Giving the government the power to censor people arbitrarily will inevitably lead to the government cracking down on their opposition, as they’ve been shown to do throughout history in places like the fascist Italy and modern-day China. It is necessary for us to have freedom of expression if we are to live in a free and open democracy.

Supporters of the conviction argue that Meechan was “grossly offensive” to the Jewish people and therefore should be reprimanded. They also argue that his motivation was clearly religious prejudice against the Jews, and that for a joke the video had gone too far with the repetition of certain phrases.

None of this really matters, however. When somebody commits a crime, such as robbery or murder or vandalism, there’s a clear victim involved. But when someone posts something “offensive” on the internet, there are no victims. This is because one does not have to see what they posted if one does not like it, and even if a person does it, it’s doubtful that they would suffer some kind of tangible ailment that would actually require reprimanding.

This was a victimless crime and therefore it caused harm to no one. Which means that it really should not be a crime because no one’s life was significantly worsened or ruined by this.

Furthermore, Meechan has stated on multiple occasions that he just wanted to have a laugh while annoying his girlfriend. This has nothing to do with trying to offend the Jewish people, and this can clearly be seen in the video (as he says so within it) and he also only chose to make the pug a Nazi because it was the worst thing he could think of, and rather aptly they are the butt of the joke and not the Jews.

In the end, this is an unacceptable breach of the inalienable rights of Mark Meechan and should be corrected immediately.

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Freedom of expression comes under fire