The National Secular Society has awarded the staff of Charlie Hebdo the annual Secularist of the Year prize, for their courageous response to the terror attack on their Paris office.
Just one week after the attack on 7 January 2015, in which 12 people were killed, the remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo published an edition of the magazine featuring a depiction of Mohammed and an editorial making a passionate defence of
secularism and the right to free expression.
NSS president Terry Sanderson said:
Since the events of 7 January in Paris, Charlie Hebdo has become more than a magazine -- it has become an ideal, a symbol of democracy, a rallying cry to those who value freedom and openness in public debate.
The Charlie Hebdo horror has now joined the endless stream of other outrages committed in the name of Islam. The difference is that it prompted a commitment to free speech and secularism on the part of millions of people.
Looked at objectively, blasphemy is a ridiculous concept, transparently invented to protect eminently arguable ideas from challenge. Ridiculous it may be, but it is also lethal.
From the forty or so nominations that we received, there was one that could not be ignored, that was the obvious and only possible winner.
In addition to the main Secularist of the Year award, the NSS also acknowledged a number of others for their work in the past year.
Lord Avebury was recognised with a special award for his invaluable support of the NSS, and for being a tireless advocate for secularism. Lord Avebury recently tabled a Bill to abolish chancel repair liability and has spoken out in Parliament
against collective worship in schools and new legislation allowing prayers to be held as part of council meetings.
Maajid Nawaz, who couldn't attend the event, was recognised for his work at Quilliam, countering Islamic extremism and promoting secularism.
Helen Bailey and Elaine Hession were acknowledged for their efforts in helping the National Secular Society campaign to abolish chancel repair liability.
Street preacher Michael Overd has been found guilty of using threatening or abusive words after making homophobic remarks during a sermon delivered in Taunton High Street.
Overd was ordered to pay £250 to a passer-by who had been 'offended' by the preacher's comments, and he initially refused, at which point judge Shamim Qureshi threatened the preacher with a prison sentence. He has been ordered to pay total costs
Overd intends to appeal his conviction and said I follow my Lord and leader, so I won't tone down.
The street preacher was charged with a public order offence, after complaints were made by members of the public that he had made homophobic and Islamophobic remarks. In particular he quoted Leviticus 20:13 :
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (English Standard Bible)
The BBC reports that the judge told the preacher he seemed to enjoy testing the laws on free speech to their limits . Overd was also told that he should not have quoted from Leviticus 20:13 when speaking about homosexuality , according to Christian Today, who also report that
the judge suggested that there were other verses he could have chosen if he wanted to talk about what the Bible says about homosexuality.
Judge Qureshi also works as a judge for the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, which aims to help Muslims resolve disputes in accordance with Islamic Sacred Law.
Overd was found not guilty on two other charges, which included causing racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress after he made critical remarks about the Muslim religious character Mohammed.
The National Secular Society has previously raised concerns about the trial's implications for free speech. Terry Sanderson, NSS president, said the ruling appeared to make the quoting of certain passages of the Bible illegal:
Whilst we all want to encourage public civility, there is a higher principle at stake. As long as there is no incitement to violence, then people should be allowed to speak freely without fearing legal repercussions.
A Rangers fan who was arrested for sectarian singing while on his way to attend a game against Celtic has been jailed for four months.
Scott Lamont was heard singing the words of the Billy Boys song on Cathcart Road on 1 February. He admitted the charge at Glasgow Sheriff Court.
He was also given an 18-month football banning order. As part of the order he will be supervised for 18 months and must carry out 160 hours of unpaid work. Sheriff Paul Crozier said:
Glasgow has developed a good reputation in recent years. We had the Commonwealth Games last summer, we haven't had an Old Firm game in years. What happened at the first Old Firm game? People like him let Glasgow down. 'Ruin football'
A message has to be sent to those people who would choose to ruin football for the vast majority who want to go to these games, that you cannot behave like this. This sort of behaviour will not be tolerated, certainly not by me.
The sheriff described the words to the song as inflammatory an said it could have led to horrendous violence .
Our new report
Careless Whispers has highlighted that 6,329 people have been charged or cautioned under out-of-date communications legislation. Focusing on the impact on communications made on social
media, the report highlights an increase in cases.
The report features a foreword from John Cooper QC, Barrister for the defence in the 'Twitter joke trial', who warns that there is "a lack of training in many police forces and the CPS as to how this older law
applies to a very modern medium."
The figures, which were obtained under Freedom of Information law, show that there have been at least 355 social media cases brought under the legislation. Only 13 of the 42 police forces provided details of the number of
social media cases they have been involved with, so the figure is likely to be far higher.
The report focuses on two pieces of communications legislation which were both drafted before the existence of the most widely used social media platforms. Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, which was created to
deal with public electronic messages that were either grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character and was most famously used in the Twitter joke trial .
And the Malicious Communications Act 1988 was first created to deal with poison pen letters or hate mail but was expanded in 2001 to cover electronic communications. The Act was used in the Poppy Burning case of 2012, when
an individual was arrested for posting an image of a burning poppy on a social network site on Remembrance Day.
Based on the figures contained in the report, Big Brother Watch calls for:
Section 127 of the Communications Act to be repealed, and for the words "grossly offensive" to be removed from the Malicious Communications Act.
A full review of the way communications legislation is being used to police social media.
A common approach to enforcing the legislation by police forces, including introducing a standardised approach to recording social media offences.
Your offer of commemorative badges in support of journalistic freedom highlighting Je suis Charlie , prompts me to suggest a degree of caution following my experience.
Tongue in cheek, I asked my helpful newsagents to obtain a copy of the edition of Charlie Hebdo issued after the dreadful massacre in Paris, if indeed a copy was ever available in north Wiltshire.
To my surprise, a copy arrived last Wednesday week and although the standard of content in no way matches that of the Guardian I will cherish it.
However, two days later a member of Her Majesty's police service visited said newsagent, requesting the names of the four customers who had purchased Charlie Hebdo. So beware, your badges may attract police interest in your customers.
Update: Police admit that they were monitoring people who bought Charlie Hebdo
A British police force has apologised after a policeman told a newsagent to hand over details of customers who purchased copies of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Wiltshire police confirmed that a policeman visited a newsagent in Corsham, Wiltshire, to ask for the names of four customers who ordered the commemorative survivors' issue of the magazine.
In a statement, Wiltshire police apologised to the members of the public who may be affected by this and said they had deleted the details from their system. A spokeswoman said:
Following the terrorism incident in Paris, France on 7 January 2015, Wiltshire police undertook an assessment of community tensions across the county. As part of this work, local sector policing teams were asked to be mindful of business
premises, in particular newsagents who may be distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine and to consider that these shops may be vulnerable.
Several British police forces have questioned newsagents in an attempt to snoop into sales of a special edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine, the Guardian has learned.
Officers in Wiltshire, Wales and Cheshire have approached retailers of the magazine, it has emerged, as concerns grew about why police were attempting to trace UK-based readers of the French satirical magazine.
In at least two cases, in Wiltshire and in Presteigne, Wales, officers have requested that newsagents hand over the names of customers who bought the magazine.
Paul Merrett the owner of a newsagent in Presteigne, Wales, said a detective and a police community support officer from Dyfed-Powys police spent half an hour asking his wife about the magazine and who bought it. Merrett related:
My wife said, 'Am I in trouble?' because she thought she was in trouble for selling them. They said, 'No, you're not in trouble' but just continued with their questioning for half an hour.
It was all about Charlie Hebdo. I guess they wanted names and addresses of people we sold them to, which we didn't tell them anything like that. We sold 30 copies.
In Warrington, Cheshire, a police officer telephoned a newsagent seeking information about an issue of the magazine for a customer.
Update: Charlie Hebdo sellers should not be asked for readers' details, says top policeman
Police officers should not seek the names of law-abiding Charlie Hebdo readers following the Paris terror attacks, Britain's most senior counter-extremism officer has said.
Sir Peter Fahy, the national police lead for preventing extremism, said he was urgently clarifying guidance to all forces in the UK and acknowledged that it appeared over-zealous and unnecessary for officers to ask newsagents to hand over
details of the French satirical magazine's readers.
The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism wants prosecutors to examine whether prevention orders like those used to restrict sex offenders' internet access could be used against people who make remarks taken as insulting about
religion. The cross-party group highlighted in particular the use of anti-Semitic terms online.
The Parliamentary inquiry was set up following an unsurprising rise in incidents in July and August last year during Israel's onslaught against Gaza. The hashtags Hitler and genocide featured with high frequency , during the
The MPs said social media platforms had increasingly been used for the spread of anti-Semitism . Their report said the terms Hitler and Holocaust were among the top 35 phrases relating to Jews during the conflict.
Although the primary focus of the inquiry was anti-Semitism, one recommendation it made was that those who carry out any kind of hate crime should be prevented from using social media.
About a thousand Muslim protesters gathered outside the gates of Downing Street to protest against free speech and the depictions of the religious character Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine.
The protestors, many of whom were segregated into groups of men and women, gathered near the Cenotaph.
The protest was organised by the Muslim Action Forum, which said that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons had helped sow the seeds of hatred and had damaged community relations. Strangely not mentioning the fully grown hatred demonstrated by the
muslim murderers in Paris that has damaged community relations far more than a few cartoons.
A welcome new direction of the protest were the appearance of some witty placards. One young child stood next to a placard displaying the message: Charlie and the abuse factory . Another clever 'interfaith' message said: Insult my mum
and I will punch you (Pope Francis)
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published new legal guidance on freedom of expression.
Following the recent tragic deaths in Paris, there has been considerable debate both nationally and internationally about free speech. The new guidance aims to help address 'muddle and misunderstanding' around specific areas of Britain's laws on
freedom of expression.
It explains there are legitimate ways the state restrains what we can say but the test for curtailing freedom of expression in law is a stringent one, and much that is offensive is still legal.
Freedom of expression can however be restricted in certain circumstances. For example, where it incites violence against others or promotes hatred based on the colour of someone's skin or their sexual orientation or their religion.
Chief Executive Mark Hammond said:
The recent tragic events in Paris have again highlighted the importance of freedom of expression in our society. We have a long history of debating free speech in this country and the law recognises its value and importance.
"oday's guidance aims to address any muddle and misunderstanding about the law. What goes beyond causing offence and promotes hatred is sometimes a fine line and the source of intense debate. As an expert body and National Human Rights
Institution, we hope we can play an important role in helping public bodies to understand and navigate this complex area."
The new guidance includes the following key points:-
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected under the Human Rights Act 1998 by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also a fundamental right under common law
Protection under Article 10 extends to the expression of views that may shock, disturb or offend the deeply-held beliefs of others
Any restrictions on freedom of expression must always be clearly set out in law, necessary in a democratic society for a legitimate aim, and proportionate
...BUT...AREN'T CLEARLY SET OUT IN LAW...
The boundary between the expression of intolerant or offensive views and hate speech is not always an easy one to draw. However, a number of factors are likely to be relevant, including the intention of the person making the statement, the
context in which they are making it, the intended audience, and the particular words used
Freedom of expression is protected more strongly in some contexts than others. In particular, a wide degree of tolerance is accorded to political speech and debate during election campaigns
Subject to these conditions, freedom of expression may be limited in certain circumstances, including in order to protect others from violence, hatred and discrimination
In particular, freedom of expression does not protect statements that discriminate against or harass, or incite violence or hatred against, other persons and groups, particularly by reference to their race, religious belief, gender or sexual
A new project will offer artists, producers and curators help in negotiating controversial issues.
Experts, lawyers and arts practitioners will produce a series of information packs examining the impact of current UK laws on the arts sector's practical freedom to present creative works. The packs will be published by new free expression
Vivarta , in collaboration with campaign organisation Index on Censorship and top law firms
Bindmans LLP and
Clifford Chance . The project is supported by Arts Council England. The new guides will be launched in May, with input from leading lights in the arts, civil liberties and legal spheres.
Covering legislation on public order, child protection, obscene publication, racial & religious hatred, and counter-terrorism, the packs will help informed decision making, contingency planning and risk assessment across the sector.
Julia Farrington of Vivarta said:
Arts professionals rarely get any training in legal issues that impact on freedom of artistic expression. These guides will give people across the arts more confidence in making decisions, with greater awareness of their legal rights and the
role of the police.
Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg said:
The shutting down last year of performances like Exhibit B at The Barbican and Israeli hip hop opera The City in Edinburgh demonstrate that artists and venues continue to walk a delicate path when putting on challenging work. Often fear of
opposition or protest forces groups to self-censor. We hope clearer guidance on tackling these issues can help to reverse that trend.
reporting that feminist comic Kate Smurthwaite has had a show cancelled at Goldsmith's, University of London due to safety concerns resulting from threats of aggressive picketing of the event.
Smurthwaite, a feminist and atheist activist, was due to perform at the South London campus on 2nd February. But the show has been pulled after threats of a picket of the venue by some feminist students.
The group disagrees with Smurthwaites views on sex work. Smurthwaite hold the reprehensible belief that buying sex should be criminalised, while Goldsmith's Feminist Society is commedably in favour of legalisation of the sex industry.
However the Feminist Society voted in favour of Smurthwaite's show going ahead but some feminists students insisted they would picket the venue in protest at Smurthwaite's opinions.
post on Facebook, Smurthwaite pointed out the irony that her latest show is about free expression:
The strangest thing is that my show is not about prostitution. I don't even mention it. In a massively ironic coincidence my show is about free speech, it's power and uses and abuses. It is also about Saudi prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi who
is now being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Meanwhile The Guardian reports that research by online magazine Spiked, finds hat 80% of universities are shown, as a result of their official policies and actions, to have either restricted or actively censored free speech and expression
on campus beyond the requirements of the law. Spiked's first ever
Free Speech University Rankings show each university administration and students' union graded green, amber or red based on an assessment of their policies and actions. Institutions have been given an overall ranking based on the two
Essex is among the worst performers in Spiked's research, one of five universities in which the student union and the administration are both assessed as actively preventing freedom of speech. The other four are Portsmouth, Northampton, Bath Spa
and the University of the West of England.
The Universities are pulled up for the like of banning the Sun, Robin Thicke and for extreme political correctness.
Offsite Update: Maybe someone's taking someone for a ride
The Scottish Labour MP Thomas Docherty has written to the British culture secretary inferring that Adolf Hitler's book, Mein Kampf should be banned.
He is calling for a national debate on whether the sale of the book should be banned in the UK.
Docherty has written to culture secretary Sajid Javid about the text, pointing out that it is currently rated as an Amazon bestseller . An edition of Mein Kampf is currently in fifth place on Amazon's history of Germany chart, in
fourth place in its history references chart, and in 665th place overall. He wrote:
I think that there is a compelling case for a national debate on whether there should be limits on the freedom of expression.
And of course the inevitable '...BUT...' He said i n his letter there are:
Many who would argue that the publication of books as repulsive as Mein Kampf is the price of living in a democracy, and that by allowing academic study of books such as this, we ensure that our society understands better the causes of fascism
and the origins of Nazism.
there are also many who would argue that such a book, which sought to incite racial hatred and fuel antisemitism, is too offensive to be made available.
And of course he doesn't want to be as vulgar as actually calling for a ban, he would much rather find somebody else to utter those words:
I'm not saying it should be banned, I am saying we should absolutely have a debate about whether or not it should be banned,
Could you have for argument's sake a system of academic licensing, a system in which institutes of learning were permitted to publish and teach it? Let's have the debate. Let's ask, in the 21st century, are there limits to free speech?
The Victoria and Albert museum has attempted to conceal its ownership of a devotional image of the religious character Muhammad, citing security concerns, in what is part of a wider pattern of apparent self-censorship by British institutions that
scholars fear could undermine public understanding of Islamic art and the diversity of Muslim traditions .
Similar images have been shown in exhibitions across Europe and America without prompting outrage, much less protests or a violent response.
British museums and libraries hold dozens of these images, mostly miniatures in manuscripts several centuries old, but they have been kept largely out of public view. Fear of displaying them is apparently driven by controversy about satirical or
offensive portraits of Muhammad by non-Muslims, despite the huge difference in form and purpose.
When the V&A was asked if it held any images of Muhammad after the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo , it said there were none. A US expert later provided a link to a poster in its collection, with the inscription Mohammad the Prophet of God
. That page in the database was deleted last week, but can still be found in a cached version. A spokeswoman said their original response was an honest error .
Other British institutions with images of Muhammad in their Islamic art collections show some on websites, but have shied away from exhibitions.
Save Soho is a coalition of performers, residents and politicians who have now come together out of concern after the closure and repossession of world renown club Madame Jojo's.
Save Soho's aim is to protect and nurture iconic music and performing arts venues in Soho that are disappearing at a terrifying rate. These closures are an attack on Soho's vibrant creative history and enduring character. With the support of the
mayor of London, Save Soho is reaching out to to the landowners, so that we can offer them the rich experience of all our supporters in the entertainment industry to advise on future plans. Together, we can safeguard the future of the performing
arts in Soho.
Stephen Fry, Chairman of Save Soho said:
Save Soho is not about shrieking at landowners or trying to shame them or anything of that nature. Save Soho is really hoping to be given a small consultational part in their plans.
Tim Arnold, Founder of Save Soho said:
Soho has always depended on building around and adding to what has gone before, not by demolishing it.