As someone who blogs about freedom of expression I really can’t let the ridiculous burkini controversy in France go by without comment.
Policemen have literally been forcing women to disrobe in public. That is deeply illiberal and wrong.
The arguments for enforcing such a policy do not stand up. Continue reading “Ban the Burkini Ban”
Anyone who can present a calm and collected facade will be an attractive candidate. Teresa May is doing this.
The perils of not posting your blog post immediately after you’ve written it! I wrote this last night when the two main leadership contenders were Boris Johnson and Teresa May, and he was the bookies’ favourite. Now Michael Gove has entered the race saying “Boris is not a leader”, Johnson’s odds have lengthened significantly and Mrs May is now the favourite. I don’t know how that affects the principles I set out below.
The Conservative Party has begun the nomination process to elect a new party leader and therefore our next Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson is the favourite but my gut tells me that Teresa May will win.
Making pronouncements based on what one’s intensities say is a perilous practice. Often you end up talking shit or vomiting nonsense. Allow me to offer some head-like reasoning for what I feel in my waters. Continue reading “My Gut Tells Me Teresa May Will Be Our Next Prime Minister”
Anders Bering Breivik may have won a court case, but when it comes to his racist political project, he has lost completely.
Anders Bering Breivik, the far-right terrorist who murdered dozens of people in the Utoeya massacre in 2011 has won a human rights case.
He was being kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, which the Norwegian court ruled was inhuman.
The judge in the case made a succinct point about human rights:
In her ruling, judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic said the right not to be subjected to inhuman treatment represented “a fundamental value in a democratic society” and also applied to “terrorists and killers”.
Continue reading “Mass Murderer Wins Human Rights Case and That’s A Good Thing”
Last week, U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump provoked outrage when he said that women should be punished for having an abortion. Unusually for the self-styled maverick, he walked back the comments in subsequent interviews, saying that, actually, the woman is the victim in such cases. The idea that a woman who seeks an abortion should be criminalised (instead of or in addition to the person performing the procedure) is far outside mainstream political opinion, even in a country where religious fundamentalists have high levels of politically engagement.
Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, a woman has been given a criminal record and a three-month suspended sentence for aborting her baby in Northern Ireland. Continue reading “Legalising abortion in Northern Ireland is vote-neutral for the Westminster parties”
Three separate parliamentary committees have made a total of 123 recommendations
Yesterday I wrote again in defence of politicians. Many of the frustrations that give rise to ‘anti-politics’ are borne of people not understanding how politics works: there is a constant need to compromise and any hard choice will end up disappointing people.
Sometimes, however, the anti-political feeling is justified. I have rarely been as angry with politicians as I was when the coalition government passed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act in just two days in 2014. This legislation made lawful a number of mass violations of privacy that the security services had been caught doing without public or parliamentary consent. The politicians from all parties made mendacious arguments in favour of the new law, claiming an ’emergency’ when there was none.
From that low point, my faith in parliament is slowly being restored. Continue reading “The New Snooping Bill Needs a Total Rewrite”
For human rights defenders, advocating for a constitutional amendment is the only consistent approach
Not a week goes by, it seems, without a mass shooting in the USA. The world’s oldest democracy also has the highest rate of gun related deaths in the developed world. It’s a shocking public safety problem, and it’s caused by the fact that the Constitution of the Unitied States says that the government cannot curtail its citizens’ right to bear arms.
Many constitutional scholars say that the 2nd Amendment does not really mean that individuals can arm themselves. Rather, they say, it simply stops the Federal Government from preventing the formation of militia. The authors of that text were, after all, mindful of tyrannies, dictatorships and unchecked state violence. Continue reading “On Gun Ownership, Nothing Less Than Repeal of the 2nd Amendment Will Do”
I’d previously written off the Asher’s case as exactly analagous to the case of the homophobic Bed & Breakfast owners. But Peter Tatchell’s article has persuaded me otherwise.
Remember the controversy about the ‘gay cake’? Last year, a bakery in Belfast refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. A court ruled that the bakers had discriminated against a customer on the basis of his sexual orientation, contrary to equality legislation. The customer, Gareth Lee, was awared £500 in compensation.
The case will be considered in the Appeal Court this week. Ahead of the hearing, the veteran gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has published a surprising article defending the bakery. There’s a version on the Guardian comment pages, and a longer version sent to Peter’s mailing list.
I recommend reading the entire article, but the crux of Tatchell’s argument is this:
It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.
The bakery refused to support and propagate the idea of same-sex marriage. Lee was not refused service because he was gay, but because of the message on the cake.
This is a subtle point but also a persuasive one. The implications loom large. Tatchell asks:
Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one the words of a Holocaust denier? Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? … If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.
Freedom of expression and freedom of conscience surely means the freedom not to engage in the commerce of distributing ideas that you oppose.
I’d previously written off the Asher’s case as exactly analagous to the case of the Bed & Breakfast owners who refused service to a gay couple—This blog has previously discussed the issues raised by such cases. However, Peter Tatchell’s article has persuaded me otherwise.
The Medium of Icing
Who would have thought that patrsies are political! Almost 10 years ago, this blog also discussed the Medium of Icing.
Defending the law, the Chinese government pointed to legislation proposed in Western nations.
Whenever I moan about the British Government interfering with and weakening our human rights protections, one thing I usually note is what a terrible example it sets to other countries around the world. How can we expect other Governments to respect human rights if we do not respect them ourselves.
Here is a concrete example of this problem in action, courtesy of The Guardian.
China introduces its own ‘snooper’s charter’
Defending the law, the Chinese government pointed to legislation proposed in Western nations, such as Britain’s draft investigatory powers bill, which grants similar powers to the UK government.
There is no need to comment further at this point.
I wonder whether ISPs could provide similar signs to their customers?
The draft Investigatory Powers Bill was published at the beginning of November. Its a huge document and the Government promised there would be ample time for scrutiny before MPs start the formal legislative process next year. Unfortunately, some are suggesting it now be rushed through in the wake of the Paris attacks. Continue reading “GCHQ Has Not Been Here”
Ambivalence about the rights of others is unpatriotic.
The Investigatory Powers Bill will be published tomorrow. The Home Secretary will set out her vision for what snooping powers the security services should have in their tool-box, and also what oversight parliament, the judiciary, and independent ‘watchdogs’ should have over the use of those powers.
I work for English PEN, one of the six organisations leading the Don’t Spy On Us campaign. Be in no doubt I will be sharing our analysis of the proposed new law and recommendations for improvement.
A constant issue regarding civil liberties (and one that we have discussed before on these pages) is how to convince members of the public to care about human rights when few of us ever actually experience a violation of those rights. In the past, I have discussed the idea of ‘everyday rights‘ and the notion that, even if we are not tortured or detained, our lives are made marginally worse when our rights are eroded, even in small ways. Continue reading “Surveillance: It’s not all about you”