BONG. BONG. BONG.
That's the deathknell, as Timmy pointed out, of freedom of speech in this fair country. And I know how staunchly we in the blogosphere treat our right to freedom of speech; it is, after all, one of the central tenets of what we do.
No longer. As I've emphasised, this legislation specifically covers bloggers and where your site is hosted is of absolutely no consequence*; if you are an EU citizen then you can be prosecuted under this law.
So, what exactly is prohibited? Well, first let's define some terms (Section 5).
"Descent" refers mainly to persons or groups of persons who descend from persons who could be identified by certain characteristics (such as race or colour), but not necessarily all of these characteristics still exist. In spite of that, because of their descent, such persons or groups of persons may be subject to hatred or violence.
"Religion" broadly refers to persons defined by reference to their religious convictions or beliefs.
"Hatred" refers to hatred based on race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.
So, we have our victim classes defined, and reasonably loose definitions they are too.
- Each Member State shall take the measures necessary to ensure that the following intentional conduct is punishable:
- (a) publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin;
- (b) the commission of an act referred to in point a) by public dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material;
Well, (a) is not too controversial; incitement to violence is already a crime here.
(b) is a little more worrying—pictures? You mean, like political cartoons? What exactly is "other material"?
- (c) publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group;
- (d) publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising the crimes defined in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal appended to the London Agreement of 8 August 1945, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group.
Ah, and what counts as "grossly trivialising" these days, I wonder?
- 1a. For the purpose of paragraph 1 Member States may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.
- 1b. For the purpose of paragraph 1, the reference to religion is intended to cover, at least, conduct which is a pretext for directing acts against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.
Now, these paragraphs will be the ones that The Independent regards as being watered down.
EU to seal deal on 'diluted' legislation criminalising denial of the Holocaust
Now, let us return to the case of Shot By Both Sides; did John Band fulfill these criteria? Yes, he made a joke about the burning Jews in ovens that was an obvious reference to the Holocaust. And indeed, he "carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order"; he made the joke on a publically available weblog—which, as I have said, is covered in Article 10: Jurisdiction—and so many people were offended that John's job was threatened, the well-being of the company that he worked for was threatened, and he was forced to remove the weblog. On a strict interpretation of this law, I easily conclude that he could, indeed, have been prosecuted.
I am not going to go through the whole document: download it for yourselves and read it with mounting horror. Reuters may think that it is watered down, but all that's unholy, it's still far more draconian than anything that we've had in this country before (or, at least in the last few hundred years).
Please also note that the only genocides so far included are the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide: the pogroms of Stalin and other Communists are not mentioned at all (which was something of a sticking point for our Eastern European partners).
But, as I have said, more serious than the assault on free speech that this represents, is that this is the beginning of an EU criminal jurisdiction: from here on in, our veto on Home Affairs will become increasingly meaningless.
Just as the EU is using its trade and environmental powers to gain more control over the economies of the member states (by encouraging them to raise revenue through "green taxes" which will then fall under the environmental competence) so it is gaining power over our justice system—again, not only through "green" legislation but also through emotive issues such as this. Both Miliband (at the very least) and Cameron are complicit in this process.
And don't forget that the only people who can initiate legislation in the EU are the unelected Commission and that these laws are effectively binding on all future parliaments, violating a fundamental princple of British democracy. Be afraid: be very afraid.
This isn't a party political broadcast on behalf of UKIP, but it is worth remembering that, shambolic though they sometimes seem, they are the only sensible party trying to fight this organisation. It is also worth noting that, despite obtaining quotes from the Independence and Democracy Group's press office yesterday, the vast majority of the media have ignored this entirely, favouring pictures of the VA Tech killer instead.
It is up to us, the Fifth Estate, to bring this to the attention of our fellows.
UPDATE: Iain Dale blogs on this.
Its aim is to make holocaust denial a criminal offence, but it has far reaching implications beyond that. I have never believed that you can legislate on people's thought processes.
It also sets a dangerous precedent. I can quite foresee people arguing in favour of banning so-called climate change denial at some point in the future. The phrase 'first they came' springs to mind.
Quite right. More links as I get them.
UPDATE 2: Timmy points out that this legislation actually brings the concept of sedition back into law.
The problem here is that "xenophobia" is defined in the English language as a fear of things foreign. It is sometimes added that it is an irrational fear, but it is indeed fear. Defining xenophobia as a contribution to a criminal act is therefore sedition, that is, a thought crime.
I think that an adapted Overlord meme is suitable here.
One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the EU will soon be here. And I, for one, welcome our new unelected overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted blogging personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground concentration camps.
I love the EU, no, really. Please don't arrest me...
Chris Dillow also comments, with typical caution.
UPDATE 4: Trixy (who tipped me off in the first place) focuses on the fact that using something as horrific as the Holocaust in order to further the EU's jurisdiction is, frankly, a little more than distasteful.
Yet the European Commission are doing something even worse. They are using the deaths of six million people to get more power.
It's very hard to argue against the idea that denying the holocaust is a pretty nasty thing to do, and that the people who do it are, generally speaking, nasty bastards. Which means that if you can get political mileage out of it then it's very difficult for your opponents to argue against you.
Which is why, of course, the European Commission are planning on implementing a piece of legislation which will give them a legal personality, and thinly disguising it under the veil of anti-racism.
And the excellent Ministry of Truth (who gave me a hand with the analysis way back in December and Jamuary) lays in with one of his typically detailed posts; he reckons that there will be some problems over the Armenian genocide.
In the circumstances, and with so many unresolved matters arising from the vagaries of the proposed legislation, it is impossible to give any clear assurances that this legislation will not affect Turkey’s accession to the European Union, unless the EU is prepared to give Turkey and undertaking that the Armenian massacres with be afforded a blanket exemption from recognition as genocide across the entire EU, compelling 10 member states in the process to alter a position on recognition that they have already adopted.
Without wishing to sound too conspiratorial here, what this looks like to me is an object lesson in how to drive a wrecking ball through Turkey’s accession to the EU without taking the blame for it.
Both should be read without delay.
UPDATE 5: Melanie Phillips has also picked this up.
As was said repeatedly in the debates over Britain’s proposed law against incitement to religious hatred, hatred is a slippery concept and this would criminalise essential debate. Once ideas are criminalised — including Holocaust denial — we are all sunk.
More to come.
UPDATE 6: there's more from Dizzy Thinks and Jeremy Jacobs.
UPDATE 7: over at England Expects, Elaib concentrates on the fact that, if convicted under this law, you can be prevented from claiming benefits or even working, even after you've served your time.
UPDATE 8: A Nation of Shopkeepers looks at how these crimes are to be defined.
(8) It should be ensured that investigations and prosecutions of offences involving racism and xenophobia are not dependent on reports or accusation made by victims, who are often particularly vulnerable and reluctant to initiate legal proceedings.
The ultimate in victimless crimes. As well as a dangerous precedence that some thoughts should become illegal if muttered, now the case for the prosecution will not even need to define an actual victim. So, anyone fancy fitting up a political enemy? Truly frightening.
It's interesting: almost everybody who has looked at this paper has found some different piece of awfulness to focus on. Sterling work!
UPDATE 9: The Tin Drummer weighs in.
Once the law is rubber stamped by the EU parliament after ministers have given their agreement, the UK parliament, will, as usual, have no practical choice but to wave it through - and another long standing liberty, another hard won right is signed off to the absolutist technocrats who now give their moral simplicities to all of our laws ("You can either be for discrimination or against it"*), leaving common sense and debate to string themselves up from the nearest lamposts in despair.
And, interestingly, a Turkish blog which agrees with Unity's problems with the Armenian genocide.
One of the interesting themes that conservative and libertarian U.S. intellectuals have been emphasizing in the recent years is the growing gap of freedom in Europe. According to these critics, in continental European countries such as Germany and France — the backbones of the EU — there is a strong tendency towards protecting the welfare state at the expense of individual freedoms. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute (a libertarian think tank in Michigan) even argued that there are signs of a “soft-despotism” mindset in the continent, which was apparent in the now-defunct European Constitution.
Definitely go and read that one.
UPDATE 10: they have agreed the framework in its current form. Although the BBC, as is to be expected, has played down the dangers inherent in this piece of legislation.
European interior ministers have agreed to make incitement to racism an EU-wide crime, but have stopped short of a blanket ban on Holocaust denial.
The agreement makes it an offence to condone or grossly trivialise crimes of genocide - but only if the effect is incitement to violence or hatred.
The deal follows six years of talks, and will disappoint Germany, which pushed hard for a Holocaust-denial law.
Berlin has also had to drop a proposal for an EU-wide ban on Nazi symbols.
It all sounds so anodyne, doesn't it? But download the document and read it for yourself. And, please, keep blogging about it.
Unity finds an appropriate name: The Book-Burning Act 2007.
Your humble Devil has just done a short interview with Bruno Waterfield of The Telegraph who is very much going to focus on the blog reaction, so keep 'em coming.
UPADTE 11: there are a whole raft more good pieces, from The Nameless One, our South African friend, the always-stalwart Very British Dude, the typically excellent Strange Stuff, the normally Europhile Gary Andrews, The Brussels Journal, Lord Matt, The Corner, the percipacious Freeborn John, plus some typical, mealy-mouthed tedium from EU Referendum.
Most importantly, Not Saussure looks at the actual legal implications and concludes that it will not require us to alter our legal code too much. However, he does point out the really worrying thing about this.
No, the reason this set of proposals is profoundly objectionable, it seems to me, is that it extends EU competence into something that’s clearly a matter of domestic criminal law. Obviously we need laws against theft and assault, but it’s no business of the EU to tell us that we should have them or how they should be defined and what the minimum penalties should be, and I can see no difference in principle between that than letting the EU tell us we must have laws against incitement to racial hatred, desirable though such laws may well be.
This is about the EU's extension of powers into justice and Home Affairs and cannot be allowed to continue.
* Strictly speaking, this is not true. If you are not an EU citizen, but your site is hosted in the EU, you can also be prosecuted under this law.