Scottish man sentenced over 'grossly offensive' joke on YouTube

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

On Monday, Mark Meechan of Scotland was fined GBP800 for a joke video he posted on YouTube. He was found guilty of being "grossly offensive" in violation of the Communications Act of 2003 on March 20. Meechan, whose YouTube persona is "Count Dankula", posted a video on the social media site in which he trained a pug, a small companion dog, to respond to spoken words such as "Sieg Heil" and "Gas the Jews". Meechan had been facing possible time in prison for the offense.

File photo of Mark Meechan, from an online interview in 2017.
Image: Bunty King.

Dozens of free speech advocates protested the conviction outside of the courthouse as Meechan's punishment was delivered. After the sentencing, Meechan insisted he had only been exercising his right to free speech and he intends to appeal. Simultaneously, in London hundreds of protesters marched to Downing Street in support of Meechan.

In April of 2016, Meechan uploaded a video titled "M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi" to YouTube in which he trained the dog to respond to certain spoken commands. The dog, which belongs to his girlfriend Suzanne Kelly, learned to raise its front paw when the "Sieg Hitler" command was given, and react when the words "Gas the Jews" were spoken. The video has been viewed over three million times. Currently it is on 'restricted mode' on YouTube. In the video, which runs 2 minutes 23 seconds, Meechan states that he is not a racist.

Meechan's defense, by attorney Ross Brown, maintained the video was a joke. Meechan claimed he meant to annoy Kelly.

Director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities Ephraim Borowski testified for the prosecution. "In many ways, the bit I found most offensive was the repetition of 'gas the Jews' rather than the dog itself," said Borowski. "Material of this kind goes to normalize the antisemitic views that frankly we thought we had seen the last of[...] The Holocaust is not a subject for jocular content."

The sheriff court with Derek O'Carroll presiding in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire found that Meechan was guilty because the video was "anti-Semitic and racist in nature". O'Carroll elaborated: "This court has taken the freedom of expression into consideration, but the right to freedom of expression also comes with responsibility."

O'Carroll further said, "The accused is quite obviously an intelligent and articulate man. The accused knew that the material was offensive and knew why it was offensive. Despite that the accused made a video containing anti-Semitic content and he would have known it was grossly offensive to many Jewish people."

After the conviction, some British comedians voiced their support for Meechan. Ricky Gervais tweeted: "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." David Baddiel also tweeted, saying "an actual Nazi would not be teaching his *pug* to Hitler salute."


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