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What kind of regime imprisons people for what they tweet? Oh, hang on…

4 November 2012

5:57 PM

4 November 2012

5:57 PM

The King of Bahrain certainly doesn’t seem to like it up him. In this week’s Spectator, Kirsty Walker said her last complaint – before quitting journalism — was from the King objecting to her being rude about his regime. A Bahraini man has just been sentenced to six months in jail for ‘defaming’ the king on Twitter. Three similar Twitter users are up on similar charges next week. David Cameron should be making clear how appalled he is at this repression – except he is not in a very good position to comment.

After last year’s riots, police threatened to arrest users for inciting the looters. It seemed daft: would you really arrest people for writing posts, mostly moronic, on Twitter? Nowadays we regularly hear stories about members of the public being arrested for posting their ramblings on the site. During the Olympics one user was arrested for tweeting abuse at the diver Tom Daley, while another was jailed for almost two months for posting racist comments about a footballer. And it’s not just Twitter – Facebook users have also been jailed for similar postings. There is a fundamental difference in degree between what Brits can say, and what Bahrainis can say. But the idea of imprisoning people for what they say rather than what they do is accepted by both.

In the US, the First Amendment prevents congress from limiting peoples’ freedom of speech, thereby stopping the US courts for imposing the kind of penalties that both the British – and now the Bahraini courts – have become such fans of. In Britain, freedom of speech is not very well defended at all. The odds are that Lord Justice Leveson will propose that government tries to regulate the press, which as Alexander Chancellor says in the current Spectator, would be unthinkable in America.

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