Backlash erupts over encroachment on freedom of speech

Steve Watson
Nov 12, 2012

A man living in Kent, in the South of England, has been arrested by police for posting a picture of a burning poppy, sparking an intense backlash from many concerned about the erosion of free speech.

Police in Kent have not made it clear whether the man actually took the picture himself, or if it was a picture found somewhere else online.

The image shows a paper poppy, the kind that are sold by The Royal British Legion to commemorate remembrance day in Britain, being set on fire with a lighter.

The suspect is 19-year-old Linford House, who was arrested yesterday on suspicion of ‘malicious telecommunications’ after police were contacted. He is said to have written a derogatory comment with the Twitter post.

Reactions to the arrest have gone viral on Facebook and Twitter, with many suggesting that the arrest contravenes human rights laws.

David Allen Green, a journalist and lawyer for the New Statesman, tweeting as Jack of Kent, wrote: ”What was the point of winning either World War if, in 2012, someone can be casually arrested by Kent Police for burning a poppy?”

Tom Williams, tweeting as @tomwilliamsisme, wrote: ”The scary thing is, the man wasn’t arrested for burning a poppy – that’s not illegal. He was arrested for putting it online.”

Twitter use @thisisrjg, tweeted: ”We do not have a right to not be offended. We certainly don’t have a right to lock up someone for offending some people”.

Thom Lumley, tweeting as @Hotstepperrr, wrote: ”Dear idiots at Kent Police, burning a poppy may be obnoxious, but it is not a criminal offence.”

“Kent Police need to urgently release this man and drop an utterly ridiculous investigation into something that has harmed no-one.” Nick Pickles, director of advocacy group Big Brother Watch, told the London Telegraph.

“It is not illegal to offend people and, however idiotic or insensitive the picture may have been, it is certainly not worthy of arrest. This case highlights the urgent need to reform a law that poses a serious risk to freedom of speech after several ludicrous prosecutions in recent months.” Pickles added.

Agnes Callamard, executive director at free speech group Article 19 said: “Causing offence, showing poor judgment or expressing views which people find to be in bad taste should not amount to criminal prosecution.”

“You don’t have to support this man’s views to support his right to be able to express them.” she added.

“Censorship and violations against human rights are values which were fought over during the world wars, which makes this case somewhat ironic.”

London Guardian blogger, Ally Fogg, notes that the police action in this incident represents “the latest step towards a new totalitarianism”.

“It is now clear that a new criminal code has been imposed upon us without announcement or debate. It is now a crime to be offensive. We are not sleepwalking into a new totalitarianism – we have woken up to find ourselves tangled in its sheets.” Fogg writes.

“The new tyrant is not an oligarch or a chief of secret police, but an amorphous, self-righteous tide of populist opinion that demands conformity to a strict set of moral values. What we are seeing has less to do with the iron heel than with the pitchfork.” he adds.

Although it is not clear that the man currently in police custody was indulging in any sort of protest, there are many people in Britain who have spoken out against the pomp and ceremony of remembrance day, and especially the use of the poppy as a symbol of commemoration.

Last year award winning London Independent journalist Robert Fisk penned a remarkable piece, arguing that those who flaunt the poppy symbol on their lapels may as well be openly mocking the war dead.

Fisk, whose father died in the First World War, wrote ” I see these pathetic creatures with their little sand-pit poppies – I notice that our masters in the House of Commons do the same – and I despise them. Heaven be thanked that the soldiers of the Great War cannot return today to discover how their sacrifice has been turned into a fashion appendage.”


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’, and He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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