High-profile victims of the global crackdown on hitherto perfectly lawful forms of speech, including journalists, authors, broadcasters, activists and politicians, have united in condemnation of Ireland’s proposed far-reaching censorship bill.
In a video published by Christian legal organisation ADF International, the group – including Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen, Mexican Congressman Gabriel Quadri, Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillion, the founder of the UK’s Free Speech Union, Toby Young, and journalists Andy Ngo and Emma Webb, call on the Irish government to uphold its obligations under international human rights law to allow people to speak, tweet, and express themselves freely.
Under the country’s new Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill, which is currently before the upper house of the Oireachtas, it will become a crime punishable by up to five years in jail to say anything, on- or offline, which anybody with a protected characteristic drawn from a vague and open-ended series of such characteristics (e.g., race, gender, religion, sexuality, and so on) perceives to be ‘hateful’.
Troublingly, the draft legislation contains no definition of “hate”, which means that once the Bill is passed it will, in the first instance, be the Garda Síochána that determines what constitutes hatred based on its current, capacious definition of a hate crime as “perceived by the victim, or any other person, to have been motivated by prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender”.
Even if cases involving ‘perceived’ incitement to hatred never reach the courts, the risk is that the investigatory process – the knock on the door, the officers of the law pushing past you into your living room, the search of your possessions, the formal interview down at the police station – effectively becomes the punishment, creating a chilling effect that will in future lead the ‘perpetrator’, and all those who know the ‘perpetrator’, to self-censor.
In an echo of Ireland’s Committee on Evil Literature, which was established in 1926, and the Censorship of Publications Act which followed three years later and prohibited the sale and distribution of “unwholesome literature”, the Irish government’s brave new Hate Speech Bill will also make it a crime, punishable by two years’ jail time, simply to “prepare or possess” material likely to incite hatred.
“Possession” in this context could simply mean having a dodgy meme or cartoon saved on your phone, or a copy of The Turner Diaries or Mein Kampf stored on your laptop. These and other, similar cultural artefacts will undoubtedly fall within the ambit of the Garda, since the bill reverses the usual burden of proof, and presumes “that the material [is] not intended for personal use”, and that you must be planning to disseminate it, unless you can prove otherwise.
Any attempt to frustrate the authorities in their pursuit of ‘unwholesome literature’ won’t get tech-savvy Irish citizens very far, either, since the legislation includes a provision that makes it a crime to refuse to give the Garda a password to any electronic device that you own.
Among the high-profile public figures to join with ADF International in calling for Ireland to ditch the bill, are Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Mexican Congressman Gabriel Quadri, two politicians who know what it’s like to be prosecuted for peaceful online expression in their respective countries.
Back in 2019, Ms Räsänen cited verses from the Bible while criticising Helsinki’s Pride event, in the context of a societal debate taking place around her Church at the time. She asked her Church leaders where in the Bible they found justification to sponsor the Helsinki Pride event.
It was enough to trigger a police investigation, thirteen hours of interrogation, three criminal charges, including one for ‘hate speech’ that was filed under the “war crimes and crimes against humanity” section of the Finnish Criminal Code, and a legal battle with the country’s indefatigable state prosecutor that, remarkably, five years later, is still ongoing.
The case of Gabriel Quadri, a classical-liberal congressman, is equally shocking. Mexico currently has a quota in place requiring 50/50 representation of men and women in congress. During the country’s 2021 election, however, two congressional seats earmarked for women were given to males who identify as women. Quadri then took to Twitter to ask whether this was fair for women. In a series of posts, he described what had happened as an injustice, stood up for women’s representation, and set out his ‘gender critical’ beliefs regarding the importance of biological sex in policy and in law.
For daring to speak out, Quadri was convicted of being a “political violator against women”.
In a fittingly dystopian twist, he was forced by a Mexican court to post to Twitter an apology that was drafted for him by the judges, while also posting a Maoist-style ‘struggle session’ summary of his conviction for 15 days, at two set times per day. Two training courses on gender-based political violence also had to be completed as part of his political re-education. Quadri continues to suffer egregious personal and professional consequences, with the threat of becoming ineligible to run for office also now hanging over him.
“It’s incredibly important to exercise our free speech to defend against the degrading of this basic human right, which belongs to everyone,” said Lorcàn Price, Irish Barrister and Legal Counsel for ADF International, who has been providing members of the Irish parliament legal advice regarding the draft bill’s violations.
“Ireland should be a place where we can have important conversations about issues that matter to us – yes, even about controversial and sensitive topics. When these conversations are shut down, we all lose out.”