Crime in England to Post on Facebook That “All Soldiers Should DIE & Go To HELL!”

I missed this story when it came up a few months ago; from The Independent (UK):

Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was killed alongside Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, Private Anthony Frampton, 20, Private Christopher Kershaw, 19, Private Daniel Wade, 20, and Private Daniel Wilford, 21, all of 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.

[Shortly after, Azhar Ahmed posted a Facebook message that] said: “People gassin about the deaths of Soldiers! What about the innocent familys who have been brutally killed.

“The women who have been raped. The children who have been sliced up!

“Your enemy’s were the Taliban not innocent harmful familys.

“All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL! THE LOWLIFE F****N SCUM!

“Gotta problem. Go cry at your soldiers grave and wish him hell because that’s where he is going.”

The result: a criminal conviction, with a sentence of 240 hours community service, for the crime of “sending a grossly offensive communication,” apparently under the Malicious Communications Act 1988. For a related story, see the prosecution for posting a picture of a burning poppy.

As you might gather, I think punishing such speech is a very bad idea — bad for democracy as well as for liberty.

UPDATE: I meant to say, but forgot at first: Last month, the Director of Public Prosecutions announced new guidelines for when people would be prosecuted for “grossly offensive communication[s]” on Twitter, Facebook, and the like; the rather vague guidelines suggest that such prosecutions will now be more rare, but in my view they still unduly restrict free speech.