Monday 12 May 2014

Police ask Green blogger to remove UKIP tweet

From the Guardian LINK

Police have asked a blogger to remove a tweet that fact-checked Ukip policies but did not break any laws after receiving a complaint from a Ukip councillor, prompting concern over attempts to stifle debate.
Michael Abberton was visited by two Cambridgeshire police officers on Saturday. He was told he had not committed any crimes and no action was taken against him, but he was asked to delete some of his tweets, particularly a tongue-in-cheek one on 10 reasons to vote for Ukip, such as scrapping paid maternity leave and raising income tax for the poorest 88% of Britons.

Abberton, a Green party member who writes a blog on science and green politics, described the incident on his Axe of Reason blog.

"The police explained that I hadn't broken any law – there was no charge to answer and it really wasn't a police matter.

"They asked me to 'take it down' but I said I couldn't do that as it had already been retweeted and appropriated, copied, many times and I no longer had any control of it (I had to explain to one of the officers what Twitter was and how it worked). They said that they couldn't force me to take it down anyway."
However, to show goodwill Abberton removed all instances of the offending tweet.

A Cambridgeshire police spokesman said: "A Ukip councillor came across a tweet which he took exception to. The name of the person on the tweet was identified and that individual was spoken to. We looked at this for offences and there was nothing we could actually identify that required police intervention. Clearly, the councillor was unhappy about the tweets. If every political person was unhappy about what somebody else said about their views, we would have no politics."

As for being told not to tweet about the visit, the spokesman added: "I don't know if he'd have been told that. It's certainly not the advice I would have given him. A gentleman has a right to free speech – absolute total right to free speech – we can't tell people what they can and can't say on the internet, as long as it's within the law. We certainly don't go to people's houses and say: 'You can't tweet about this'. This is not 1930s Germany."

On his blog, Abberton made it clear that the two police officers were extremely professional and polite, but he did wonder why they had visited him at all.

"It wasn't until after they left that I questioned why they had visited me in the first place. A complaint had been made but with no legal basis. Not a police matter. So why did they come to my home in the middle of a Saturday afternoon? Also, seeing as my profile doesn't have my location – how did they know my address, or even the town I live in? … Why would a political party, so close to an election, seek to stop people finding out what their policies are or their past voting record? And is it not a matter for concern that a political party would seek to silence dissent and debate in such a manner?"

Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, who was contacted by Abberton, said he was awaiting a detailed response from the police.

"It seems astonishing for the police to get involved, there was nothing abusive or threatening in the tweets so I do want to know why they acted, and I want to know why the police told Abberton not to tweet about the visit."

Huppert said he was pleased that Ukip's policies were coming under scrutiny.

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green party, said: "This police action is both disturbing and surprising. That an apparently general complaint from a political party about not liking what was said about them could have led to a police visit that many would find intimidating is an extremely serious incident that demands immediate investigation. Free speech is a precious right that we must defend."

Bennett said the party's only member in the House of Lords, Jenny Jones, would write to Theresa May, the home secretary, to ask her to investigate.

"What a waste of police time, energy and resources," Jones said. "Their job is to investigate crime and catch criminals, not restrict free speech."

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