"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Fancy ten years jail for being annoying?"
It's said that an era of censorship, threats and state repression is upon us. The government is demanding the deletion of Internet content and seeking to censor the media. A leading magazine is facing threats of legal action and unlimited fines.
New laws are coming in that will curtail the right to protest including criminalising peaceful demonstrations. Fancy ten years jail for being annoying? At the same time, freedom of speech will falter under draconian 'hate speech' legislation. Even comments made in the privacy of a home may now be subject to legal sanction. It's a heady mix of Orwellian stuff.
And to clarify, I'm not talking about Hong Kong. All this is happening in the UK. Undoubtedly, if Hong Kong attempted the same, we'd face threats of sanctions and an international outcry.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill ( Part 3 Para 54 of draft bill is relevant) has undergone a second reading in the UK Parliament. The bill is a hotchpotch of mundane matters, while hidden in there are ‘Trojan horses’. This legislation gives the Police the power to stop protests, even static single-person events that officers deem too loud or causing a nuisance.
Moreover, Police can decide that a demonstration has too much 'impact' and then close it down. Even causing 'annoyance' is to become unlawful. Forgive me, but I thought the purpose of protests was 'impact' and 'annoyance'.
Applying ‘impact’, ‘annoyance’ ‘noise’ and the ‘nuisance’ principle would shut down all Hong Kong protests. If that’s the international standard that we are to be measured against, I’m sure we’d do well.
Even unwittingly attending an outlawed UK protest may now become a statutory offence with a possible jail sentence. Powers to stop people walking on the cracks in the pavement have yet to emerge. No doubt they'll get round to that.
The new law proposes broad discretion for the Police. Likewise, the Home Secretary gets sweeping powers to ban demonstrations. What could go wrong?
To date, the bill enjoyed an easy passage through parliament. Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, made a token effort, but his weak party are too busy infighting. Theresa May, the former PM, had a bash by warning these proposals are a severe infringement of the right to protest. Things must be dire with your democracy when the only effective opposition is a former PM sitting on the back-benches.
The recent events on Clapham Common may make the passage for the bill harder given the public disquiet at police actions. That Home Secretary Priti Patel sought to shut down the Clapham Common vigil by encouraging the Police to act is now evident. This revelation has opened another can of worms. Don't the Police operate independently of politicians? Then we have disingenuous criticism of the Police by Patel, who it now appears acted on her instructions.
On March 11, Scotland voted in a controversial new law of 'stirring up hatred'. One commentator called this "the most contentious piece of legislation ever considered by the Scottish Parliament". This law got my attention because many people in the West like to poke fun at China's 'picking quarrels' charge. Fair enough, but Scotland now has its version.
There are serious concerns that this new law will impact freedom of speech. For example, JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, could face up to seven years in prison for expressing her concerns about trans rights. Comedians telling "A Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman walked into a bar" jokes may face arrest. All it takes is for someone to decide this is 'hate' and report it.
Lawyers, journalists, actors, authors, comedians, churches, secularists, civil liberties groups and feminists all objected to the new law. These groups warned that the 'stirring up' offence is vague and far-reaching. The Scottish Police Federation said the bill would result in officers "policing what people think or feel."
Plus, don't forget that in 2018, Scotland successfully prosecuted a comedian for the moronic stunt of teaching his dog to give a Nazi salute. As Ricky Gervais noted at the time, "If you don't believe in a person's right to say things that you might find 'grossly offensive', then you don't believe in freedom of speech."
The specific wording of the offence is:-
'behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting' — or communicates such material — if he or she 'intends to stir up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins, or if a reasonable person would consider the behaviour or the communication of the material to be likely to result in hatred being stirred up against such a group'.
Codifying feelings and view-points, then ascribing some as hateful, is a slippery slope. Does the State feel it's qualified to regulate emotions? I can only assume that in Scotland, politicians are confident they can.
Yet this law places a loaded gun at every debate, in comedy clubs and at the head of anyone who dares to speak out. And while proponents of the law claim they have good intentions, that's a profoundly naive statement. They've created a monster that will come back to haunt them.
For the record, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides no right not to be offended. But, Article 19 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Indeed, the British Police have already demonstrated an inability to apply such laws with appropriate discretion. Harry Miller's case tells us that officers will over reach to appease special interest groups. In the process, they are willing to trample on freedoms. Then you have Merseyside Police backpedalling after this massive blunder.
All this is atop a network of official informants that the UK established the 2015 Counter Terrorism and Security Act.
It's compelling to note that the Scottish National Party-controlled parliament enacted this ‘hate speech’ law. This week the SNP, through the Crown Office, sought to censor The Spectator magazine with legal action threats. The magazine received instructions to remove details of the ongoing Sturgeon/Salmond saga.
Much of this information is already in the public domain. David Davies, an MP, took advantage of parliamentary privilege to reveal the same facts. So why the haste to delete it from The Spectator magazine?
How often do we have to listen to lecture from the Dominic Rabb and the rest about upholding ‘universal values’. Yet here we stand, with compelling evidence that Britain is stripping away people's freedoms while pointing the finger at us.
Sorry, I forget this stuff is only authoritarian when enacted outside the 'free world’—my mistake.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.