Scottish man teaches pug how to make Nazi salute.
(photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
A day after the conviction of a UK comedian for a hate crime, a debate is raging over the limits of free speech and the scope of legal action.
Mark Meechan, who goes by Count Dankula online, was convicted on Tuesday of a hate crime in a Scottish Court for teaching his girlfriend’s dog to give a Nazi salute – and for posting the video online.
Two years ago, Meechan posted a video on his YouTube channel in which he tried to teach the pug to raise its paw in response to certain phrases, including: “Sieg Heil” and “Gas the Jews.”
The Airdrie Sheriff Court ruled on Tuesday that the video violated the Communications Act because it was “antisemitic and racist in nature.”
The legislation, enacted in 2003, “makes it an offense to send a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”
Meechan has claimed that the video was a joke and was filmed to annoy his girlfriend. At his sentencing on April 23, he could potentially face jail time for the offense.
Many figures across the political spectrum – and in the Jewish community – have voiced support for Meecha
n and expressed concern that the conviction is a troubling precedent.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday that he doesn’t believe the offense worthy of jail time.
“Had this person posted his video from the US, of course there would have been no legal action taken,” said Cooper. “But other democracies set different redlines on hate speech that have to be respected. Speech may be free, but there are consequences for one’s actions.”
Cooper said that considering the online hate the center encounters daily, “This incident would not register as an offense worthy of jail time. But among those who continue to make this video go viral are neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers who gleefully grab another opportunity to demean and denigrate the victims of the Holocaust.”
The rabbi said that instead of prison, “If I were the judge, I would sentence the young man to meet with aging Holocaust survivors and UK World War II war heroes to learn why the Nazi Seig should never be a laughing matter.”
SPEAKING OUTSIDE the courtroom after the verdict, Meechan called it a “huge miscarriage of justice.”
“I think it is a very, very dark day in regards to freedom of speech and expression,” he added. “Today, context and intent was completely disregarded... Comedians in Britain should be very very worried about making jokes in the future.”
To his more than 129,000 YouTube subscribers, Meechan describes his work as: “Offensive social commentary in an accent you won’t understand.”
The Anti-Defamation League did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Comedian Ricky Gervais took to Twitter on Tuesday to speak out about the conviction.
“A man has been convicted in a UK court of making a joke that was deemed ‘grossly offensive,’” he wrote. “If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things that you might find ‘grossly offensive,’ then you don’t believe in Freedom of Speech.”
Jewish comedian David Baddiel also had harsh words for the verdict and the policing of comedy.
“An actual Nazi would not be teaching his *pug* to Hitler salute,’’ he wrote on Twitter. “Because in 1940s Germany, that would have got you arrested and murdered for taking the piss.”
The hashtag #FreeCountDankula was trending in the UK, with many wondering why other real or imagined offenses weren’t policed in the same way. Some referenced the time in 2005 when Prince Harry was photographed dressed up in a Nazi uniform. Others wondered the ramifications for the iconic scene from the sitcom Fawlty Towers when John Cleese – suffering a head wound – pretended to be Hitler and goose-stepped across the room.
But others couldn’t find anything amusing in the original video.
Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, testified against Meechan during the trial, reported the Jewish Chronicle.
“In many ways, the bit I found most offensive was the repetition of ‘Gas the Jews’ rather than the dog itself,” he told the court. “Material of this kind goes to normalize the antisemitic views that frankly we thought we had seen the last of... The Holocaust is not a subject for jocular content.”Shoshana Kranish contributed to this report.