Is rioting a free speech issue?

Is rioting a free speech issue?


norman lebrecht

August 17, 2011

Or is Index on Censorship totally losing the plot? This just in from the libertarian organisation.


Jordan Blackshaw, 20, from Northwich Town, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Latchford, Warrington, were jailed for four years yesterday after admitting using Facebook to organise riots in their home towns. No trouble took place.

Emily Butselaar, Online editor of Index on Censorship said:

“These sentences and the government’s rhetoric on banning social media during unrest are undermining our international reputation as a bastion of free expression and justice. The fact the Chinese state media have praised the UK government for suggesting such a ban should be acutely embarrassing for No. 10.”

The sentences were imposed with the aim of deterrence. Index is concerned that the courts are in danger of undermining the UK’s reputation for both justice and freedom of speech. Even though these cases did not lead to violence, these “speech crimes” have led to some of the harshest sentences seen following the riots in the UK last week.

In adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing, the courts have failed to recognise that these are very different cases. Sutcliffe-Keenan claimed he created the Facebook event as a drunken joke. His post was only up for a matter of hours before he took it down and apologised online, whereas Blackshaw was arrested by police at the meeting place he’d designated for ”Smash dwn in Northwich Town”.

For comment contact Index on Censorship tel + 44 (0) 20 7334 2522


  • Frank says:

    You’re right. These restrictions should not be taken without careful thought to the basic values we expect in our governments. The metro system in San Francisco blocked portable phones underground with the same lack of thought. They changed their minds, after hearing the raging debate, the next day.