I have to say, I’m not really comfortable with this at all:
Last Wednesday the Federal Court sentenced [holocaust denier Fredrick Toben] to three months jail for contempt of court.
Justice Bruce Lander imposed the prison sentence because Toben had repeatedly ignored a 2002 court ruling, which required him to stop publishing material which breaches Australia’s anti-vilification laws.
Now at least for the next two weeks Toben remains free. Justice Lander has given him 14 days to appeal against the sentence.
Toben is almost certainly a complete git. He’s pushing a line of historical argument that is, frankly, implausible – and which is contradicted by so much evidence that it will never be taken seriously by anyone other than cranks. He’s insulting the personal and family suffering of a great many people still alive today.
But so what?
He’s not the equivalent of the man in the metaphorical theatre who shouts “fire”! He’s not the man who stands up and tries to incite an angry mob to smash synagogue windows, or beat up muslim immigrants, or purge unbelievers. Not on the evidence before that court, anyway.
One doesn’t have to be “free speech without limits” extremist to be uncomfortable with people being told by courts what they can and can’t say about historical events, and punished with jail time for contempt if they persevere. Is the historical record surrounding the holocaust really so flimsy as to be seriously threatened by someone shouting “NAME JUST TEN!!!11!”?
And do these laws really keep anyone safer, or do they instead build resentment and hostility that will only make the violence they are supposed to deter more likely?
UPDATE: How about, instead of “offence”, we make the determining factor if a reasonable person in the relevant group could reasonably have felt that their personal safety was threatened by the conduct in question? Isn’t that enough? I don’t think I have a problem with legislation preventing a nutter riling up a mob and setting them on the homes of any members of minority X in the vicinity, but punishing any conduct less than that is absurd.