LONDON—A Scottish comedian found guilty of a hate crime for posting a “grossly offensive” video of a dog giving Nazi salutes has vowed to defy a UK court after losing his appeal.
“My appeal has been completely rejected at both stages,” said Mark Meechan on his Count Dankula YouTube Channel on Aug. 7 to an audience of almost 310,000 subscribers.
Meechan said he refuses to pay an £800 ($1,020) fine, which could lead to time behind bars.
‘More Than Prepared’ For Prison
“Whether we like it or not, boys, I’m going to jail,” he said.
“I’m obviously not happy about the fact that I’m going to have to go to jail, but I’m more than prepared to do it for what I believe in.”
For the video, Meechan taught his girlfriend’s pet pug to perk up with enthusiasm at the command “gas the Jews” and to raise its paw at the words “Sieg Heil.”
In the recording, which features the dog responding to the controversial commands, Meechan says his aim was to prank his girlfriend, who thought the dog was the “cutest thing in the world,” by turning her beloved pet into “the least cute thing that I could think of, which is a Nazi.”
The phrase “gas the Jews” is repeated in the footage 23 times and, according to SWNS, citing court testimony, Meecham chose the phrase “as it was the most offensive phrase associated with the Nazis that he could think of.”
“It was the centerpiece of the joke,” said the presiding sheriff—a type of judge in Scotland—at Meechan’s March 20 conviction.
“He said it was so extreme that it added to the comedy,” said Sheriff Derek O’Carroll as he gave his verdict to the court.
He said Meechan “knew what he was doing” and that it was “self-evident that the material is anti-Semitic.”
‘A Deeply Unpleasant Offense’
The YouTuber was convicted for disseminating “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character,” a violation of Section 127(1)(a) of the British Communications Act 2003, which is punishable by incarceration.
“This was a deeply unpleasant offense in which disgraceful and utterly offensive material was very widely distributed by the appellant. This was to the considerable distress of the [Jewish community] and—just as disturbingly—to the apparent approval of a large number of persons who appear to share the appellant’s racist views,” reads an appeal rejection letter sent to Meechan by the Sheriff Appeal Court in Edinburgh.
The letter, which Meechan posted on Twitter and read from in his YouTube post, states that he “was fortunate that the learned sheriff was not considering custody as an option.”
UPDATE : This is the first appeal rejection letter, sensitive information has been redacted. pic.twitter.com/QVRxKsz9fA
— Count Dankula??????? (@CountDankulaTV) August 8, 2018
The material also suggests that his lawyer was just as lucky not to be charged with contempt of court for endorsing Meechan’s “defiance.”
Meechan says the court is clamping down on free speech by ignoring the comedic circumstances of his video.
“The only way for the court to secure a conviction was to willingly ignore the clear context of the video, which was explained twice, in the video itself,” he said on a GoFundMe page set up to cover legal costs.
“This conviction will be used as an example to convict other people over the things they say and the jokes they make, it sets a standard where courts will be able to willfully ignore the context and intent of a person’s words and actions in order to punish them and brand them as criminals.”
Celebrities and Campaigners Speak Out
The case has attracted interest from celebrities and groups concerned the Communications Act could be used to punish comedians and suppress free speech.
“If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things you might find ‘grossly offensive,’ then you don’t believe in freedom of speech,” said Ricky Gervais, creator of the hit television series “The Office.”
A man has been convicted in a UK court of making a joke that was deemed "grossly offensive". 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.
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) March 20, 2018
The Society for Computers and Law (SCL), a UK educational charity, has taken the law used to prosecute Meechan into its crosshairs.
In a post titled “Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003: Threat or Menace?” Lilian Edwards, Professor of E-Governance, University of Strathclyde, writes on behalf of the SCL that “Section 127 is not drafted to fit modern guarantees of freedom of speech” and suggests a way forward would be to “abolish s 127 with all its ambiguities and loose wording.”
In related guidance provided by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in response to a case in which Daniel Thomas, a semi-professional footballer, “made trollish and homophobic tweets about the Olympic diver Tom Daley,” the DPP said that Section 127 “should not be seen as a carte blanche for prosecuting content which, however upsetting to some, would normally fall with guarantees of freedom of expression in a democratic society.”
“Context and circumstances are highly relevant and as the European Court of Human Rights observed in the case of Handyside v UK (1976), the right to freedom of expression includes the right to say things or express opinions ‘…that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population,’” said Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions.
One More Try
Meechan said that his legal team will try to get the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission to persuade the courts to hear his appeal.
Third time lucky, perhaps, as in the infamous case of Paul Chambers, who was delayed at Doncaster Airport and tweeted “‘’[Expletive]! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your [expletive] together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!!’.”
“After a long period of civil liberties campaigning, support from celebrities and comedians, and sustained outrage among the Twitterati sub nom #TwitterJokeTrial,” Lilian Edwards wrote, an appeal court ruled on its third attempt that the message was “clearly not meant to be taken seriously and thus is neither menace nor threat for any reasonable person.”
For Meechan, who refuses to knuckle down, the fight goes on.
“I am not a criminal, I have done nothing wrong; the intent and context of what I did was completely ignored and what was substituted was this completely farcical apparent secret racist Nazi ideology,” he said.
“I will not bend the [expletive] knee,” he insists.
“I am not [expletive] backing down from this, so [expletive] come at me bro.”