British Prime Minister David Cameron has continued to follow the China, Burma, North Korea et al play book when it comes to dealing with criticism and dissent. Censorship, bizarre trials followed by draconian sentencing and threats to freedom of speech have become the norm in the wake of rioting set off by police killing a man in questionable circumstances.
American humorist and social commentator Will Rogers once said: “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.”
It took longer than a life time to build up, starting with the Magna Carta nearly 800 years ago, but not much more than a minute over the past week for Britain to lose any moral authority it may have once had. It can no longer seriously pressure repressive regimes into embracing freedom of speech, open access to information, democracy and even the basics of the rule of law after its own swift U-turn on those elementary building blocks of civilization.
Yesterday a UK court in Cheshire sentenced two men in their early 20′s, with no previous convictions, to 4 years jail for inciting a riot in by putting up a Facebook posting calling for people to turn out and run rampant in the streets, that the riot did not take place was seemingly irrelevant.
Britain’s court system appears to have lost its independence and be taking its cues from the politicians, handing out grossly inappropriate sentences for people even on the periphery of last weeks rioting.
There is no indication if these men in court were serious in their postings, though there is no doubt they must be dumb as a box of rocks, but if everyone who had publicly made an idiotic suggestion was put behind bars there would be some very big prisons.
This is but one example of the heavy handed sentences given out all in the name of deterrence.
And it all plays into the hands of regimes who reject what they see as “western” notions of free speech and access to information.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and his government are doing irreparable harm not only to the nation’s moral standing but also to that of activists, non governmental organizations and responsible journalists based in the UK. From now on they will all be tarred with the same brush of double standards when they promote democracy or basic human rights such as free speech.