Tag Archive: freedom

Public Order Act: repeal Section 5

Law open to abuse by over-zealous police and prosecutors


Ban on insult and distress threatens free speech & right to protest

By Peter Tatchell

Huffington Post UK – London – 17 January 2012

Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 is a menace to free speech and the right to protest. It has been repeatedly abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors, to variously arrest gay rights campaigners, Christian street preachers, critics of Scientology and even students making jokes.
It is time Section 5 was repealed, to allow freedom of expression without the threat of arrest.

The opportunity for reform exists. The current Protection of Freedoms Bill could easily be amended.

Some MPs and Lords want to amend it. Alas, the Con-Dem government is hesitating, despite its professed commitment to restore many of civil liberties that were whittled away during the Blair-Brown era.

Section 5 Public Order Act 1986 states:

Harassment, alarm or distress.

(1)    A person is guilty of an offence if he-


(a)    uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

This legislation is sweeping, draconian and has a chilling effect. There is no requirement to prove that the person intended any of the aforementioned likely consequences. They can be convicted under Section 5, regardless of their intention. Thus innocently intended words, behaviours or signs can result in a criminal record.

The first part of Section 5 is about criminalising disorderly behaviour, and words, behaviour or images that are threatening. Threats and disorderly behaviour are unacceptable. Criminalising them is therefore not unreasonable.  

It is less clear that mere abuse warrants criminalisation. What constitutes abuse? Calling someone a “bloody fool” or a “drunken bastard” is abusive but should it be a crime? Different people have different interpretations regarding what level and forms of abuse should be lawful or unlawful. It’s a subjective judgement.

Likewise with insults. When does an insult cease to be a legitimate (if bad mannered) expression of opinion and become a matter for arrest and prosecution? Much satirical comedy and many polemical critiques of religion may be deemed insults by some people.

The second part of Section 5 is equally worrying. A crime is committed if a person is “likely” to be caused “harassment, alarm or distress”. There is no requirement to prove that anyone actually has been harassed, alarmed or distressed. The mere likelihood is sufficient to secure a conviction.

In particular, the criminalisation of harassment in Section 5 is superfluous. Safeguards against harassment exist in other legislation, notably the Protection From Harassment Act 1997.

What constitutes alarm and distress in Section 5 is a further subjective judgment, open to widely different interpretations. For some ultra-sensitive people, what others regard as valid criticisms may cause them distress. Provocative challenges to their beliefs can provoke alarm.

Indeed, any controversial or dissenting viewpoint has the potential to upset someone and result in them complaining that they felt insulted, alarmed or distressed. Liberal Muslims offend traditionalists, gay pride marches alarm homophobes, mixed race couples distress racists and gender equality is an affront to sexist men. You see my point?

Section 4A of the Public Order Act is sufficient to cover any exceptional circumstances requiring prosecution (although its criminalisation of mere insults should also be repealed for the afore-mentioned reasons). Moreover, 4A has the added safeguard that the person must have acted with intent.

If we accept that abuse or insults resulting in likely alarm or distress should be a crime, we risk limiting free and open debate and criminalising dissenting opinions and alternative lifestyles that some very conservative people may find offensive and upsetting. The right to mock, ridicule and satirise ideas, opinions, people and institutions is put in jeopardy. Section 5 can, in theory, be used to criminalise almost any words, actions or images, if someone (anyone) is likely to be alarmed or distressed by them.  

To give some examples:

Campaigns against religious homophobia have sometimes resulted in lesbian and gay activists being arrested for causing insult or distress to homophobes and their religious supporters.

This is what happened to myself and other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights group OutRage! when we protested against 6,000 supporters of the Islamist fundamentalist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, outside their mass rally at Wembley Arena in 1994.
They called for the killing of gays, apostates, Jews and unchaste women. They were not arrested but we were. Our crime? We shouted slogans and displayed placards that factually condemned Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters for inciting murder and also denounced the persecution of LGBT people by Islamist governments, such as the Iranian regime. Our placards were deemed insulting and likely to cause distress.

Section 5 has been also used unjustly against Christian street preachers who have merely condemned homosexuality, without being aggressive or threatening. What they said was homophobic and should be challenged but they should not be criminalised.

Dale McAlpine was arrested in Workington in 2010, after condemning homosexuality as a sin. He was charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, contrary to Section 5.  

The same law was also used to stifle the views of Muslims who condemned British soldiers in Iraq as “terrorists” and as the “butchers of Basra”.

In 2008, a teenager was charged under Section 5 for holding a sign outside Scientology’s London headquarters calling the movement a “cult”.

Two years earlier, an Oxford student was arrested for jokingly suggesting that a police horse was “gay”.

In both cases, even though the charges were later dropped, the protesters had their freedom of expression infringed and they suffered public humiliation by the police.

The civil rights watchdogs, Liberty and Justice, want Section 5 either repealed or radically reformed.


Freedom of expression is one of the most important of all liberties and human rights. It should be only restricted in extreme and very limited circumstances. The open exchange of ideas – including unpalatable, even offensive, ideas – is a hallmark of a free and democratic society.

There is no right to be not distressed or offended. Some of the most important ideas in history – such as those of Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin – caused great offence and distress in their time.

While bigoted opinions should always be challenged, in most instances only explicit incitements to violence and damaging libels, such as false allegations of tax fraud or child abuse, should be criminalised.

Causing insult or distress is far too low a threshold for criminalisation. It can inhibit the right to protest and free speech. There is no place for Section 5 in a democratic society.

A Select Committee should be charged to examine Section 5 and all public order laws, with a view to proposing reforms that strike a better balance between protecting the public and safeguarding freedom of expression, as Lord Avebury has proposed.

  • Peter Tatchell is Director of the human rights lobby, the Peter Tatchell Foundation. 
  • To find out more about the Peter Tatchell Foundation and support its work visit:www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org 





If you would like to contact the Peter Tatchell Foundation, please email: Peter@PeterTatchellFoundation.org


C: Internet, free get rid home.

Room for Sodom the way and day you don’t want it: uncalled for or unmarried (like hetero advertise (an) us gay..

Us but not ours nay.

English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout

From the Wikimedia Foundation

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To: English Wikipedia Readers and Community
From: Sue Gardner, Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director
Date: January 16, 2012

In other languages

English  • Français • Polski

Today, the Wikipedia community announced its decision to black out the English-language Wikipedia for 24 hours, worldwide, beginning at 05:00 UTC on Wednesday, January 18 (you can read the statement from the Wikimedia Foundation here). The blackout is a protest against proposed legislation in the United States — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate — that, if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia.

This will be the first time the English Wikipedia has ever staged a public protest of this nature, and it’s a decision that wasn’t lightly made. Here’s how it’s been described by the three Wikipedia administrators who formally facilitated the community’s discussion. From the public statement, signed by User:NuclearWarfare, User:Risker and User:Billinghurst:

It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web.

Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a “blackout” of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.

On careful review of this discussion, the closing administrators note the broad-based support for action from Wikipedians around the world, not just from within the United States. The primary objection to a global blackout came from those who preferred that the blackout be limited to readers from the United States, with the rest of the world seeing a simple banner notice instead. We also noted that roughly 55% of those supporting a blackout preferred that it be a global one, with many pointing to concerns about similar legislation in other nations.

In making this decision, Wikipedians will be criticized for seeming to abandon neutrality to take a political position. That’s a real, legitimate issue. We want people to trust Wikipedia, not worry that it is trying to propagandize them.

But although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not. As Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote on one of our mailing lists recently,

We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.

But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.

The decision to shut down the English Wikipedia wasn’t made by me; it was made by editors, through a consensus decision-making process. But I support it.

Like Kat and the rest of the Wikimedia Foundation Board, I have increasingly begun to think of Wikipedia’s public voice, and the goodwill people have for Wikipedia, as a resource that wants to be used for the benefit of the public. Readers trust Wikipedia because they know that despite its faults, Wikipedia’s heart is in the right place. It’s not aiming to monetize their eyeballs or make them believe some particular thing, or sell them a product. Wikipedia has no hidden agenda: it just wants to be helpful.

That’s less true of other sites. Most are commercially motivated: their purpose is to make money. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a desire to make the world a better place — many do! — but it does mean that their positions and actions need to be understood in the context of conflicting interests.

My hope is that when Wikipedia shuts down on January 18, people will understand that we’re doing it for our readers. We support everyone’s right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects, even if they can’t pay for it. We believe in a free and open Internet where information can be shared without impediment. We believe that new proposed laws like SOPA and PIPA, and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States — don’t advance the interests of the general public. You can read a very good list of reasons to oppose SOPA and PIPA here, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Why is this a global action, rather than US-only? And why now, if some American legislators appear to be in tactical retreat on SOPA?

The reality is that we don’t think SOPA is going away, and PIPA is still quite active. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. All around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation intended to fight online piracy, and regulate the Internet in other ways, that hurt online freedoms. Our concern extends beyond SOPA and PIPA: they are just part of the problem. We want the Internet to remain free and open, everywhere, for everyone.

  Make your voice heard!


On January 18, we hope you’ll agree with us, and will do what you can to make your own voice heard.

Sue Gardner,
Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation


c: I just wish I could pay these guys though.

But if it made me tight…

Or in fact they should be payed by the government, encyclopedia that makes knowledge a common good. What I mean is ‘eat’ but that should not be a problem in a society that would make knowledge it s priority in a world that is free from being put in pain. Worn word warn ow work kowr, horde, order hoard sane.

New post on WordPress.com News  
  Join Our Censorship Protest!by Jane Wells

Have you been paying attention to all the hubbub online about the proposed U.S. legislation (SOPA/PIPA) that threatens internet freedom? I wrote about it last week over on WordPress.org, but the gist is this: there’s a bill in the U.S. Senate that if passed would put publishing freedom severely at risk, and could shut down entire sites at the whim of media companies. Fight for the Future created this nifty video to sum it up better than I can.


C: internet (fry) ridom. (Rhizome)

redo random.


also,    look at how the U.N put stuffed in active perspective.

“Change the world, invest in a girl”    says
Kathy Calvin
CEO, UN Foundation

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