I do not agree with the water charges protester who called President Higgins a midget parasite.
I do, however, totally and unconditionally support the quote attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Neither does the writer Salman Rushdie pull his punches on this issue.
Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people.
The Irish state, probably under instructions from the current government, does not tolerate such freedom of speech.
This contempt for the universal concept of freedom of speech is most clearly demonstrated by the charging of four citizens with the allegation that they insulted the president as his convoy sped past.
Specifically, they are facing a charge of:
Using threatening, insulting or abusive language.
Let me be absolutely clear about what’s going on here:
It is nothing less than state oppression. It is an abuse of the law and manipulation of state agencies in order to inflict political punishment against those who disagree with government policy.
Another quote from Voltaire makes the point:
It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
In a functional democracy every citizen should have the right to call the president or any other citizen a midget parasite. In a robust, functional democracy nobody has the right not to be offended.
In a dysfunctional democracy like Ireland, where the corrupt political/administrative system is facing a serious challenge from disaffected citizens, such freedoms are curtailed or withdrawn completely.
An almost identical incident occurred in South Africa in 2010 when a student, Chumani Maxwele, was arrested for allegedly insulting the president as his convoy sped past.
In stark contrast to the Irish incident, where the protesters were the target of almost universal media condemnation, the South African media strongly condemned the state for its abuse of free speech.
An investigation by the Centre for Constitutional Rights found that Maxwele’s rights of human dignity, security of person and freedom of expression and peaceful/unarmed demonstration had been violated.
One media commentator wrote the following:
(A concern is) that when a private citizen is arrested for ‘insulting the president’…the Government and the ANC take one step closer to assuming the comical status of the typical African tin-pot dictatorship.
Citizens of our tin-pot democracy do not enjoy the protection of a Centre for Constitutional Rights. Neither can citizens who participate in democratic, non-violent protests expect much support from a media that is overwhelmingly pro government/establishment.
A media that does not see free speech as a fundamental human right, no matter who it offends, but rather as a conditional right confined within very narrow parameters.
In a follow-up article I will analyse an Irish Times editorial on this issue which reflects a disturbing blindness within Irish media to the frequent abuse by the state of citizens rights.