Free Speech in Denmark


by Shariq
29th November, 2007 at 2:33 pm    

Its been almost 2 years since the world went crazy over some cartoons. In today’s Guardian, there’s a fascinating article about 7 people in Denmark, who have been arrested for ‘sponsoring terrorism’, by selling and publicising t-shirts which support the PFLP in Palestine and Farc in Columbia.

Before you think that this is a simple case of Danish double standards, there are a number of very interesting ironies. For instance, both the PFLP and Farc are listed as terrorist organisations by the EU (and the US), but not by the UK. Also, while most people reading this site will probably have sympathy for the Palestinian cause in general, I doubt that they see Columbian resistance movements in the same way.

On the whole, I think that the people on trial are harmless activists and that it undermines the legitimacy of anti-terror legislation, if it is used to put them away for upto ten years. However, its very interesting and I encourage everyone to read the article and make up their own mind.


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Filed in: Civil liberties,Current affairs,The World






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  1. Rumbold — on 29th November, 2007 at 3:43 pm  

    These people are just naive lefties, and should not be jailed, especially not for simply making and distributing those T-Shirts. I think that sending money to Palestinian/Columbian terrorists is obviously wrong, but it appears that they actually thought the money was for humanitarian work, rather than to buy explosives in order to murder civilians. A difficult case.

  2. Bert Preast — on 29th November, 2007 at 3:50 pm  

    “Before you think that this is a simple case of Danish double standards”

    What double standards? Can’t see what on earth religious satire has to do with sponsoring terrorism.

  3. Abu Tabel — on 29th November, 2007 at 3:56 pm  

    most people reading this site will probably have sympathy for the Palestinian cause in general

    Why would you think that? What is the ‘Palestinian cause in general’?

    I doubt that they see Columbian resistance movements in the same way.

    Again, a bit of an assumption. And while we’re on the subject, why do you ‘doubt’ that people will sympathise with Colombian resistance groups?

  4. ZinZin — on 29th November, 2007 at 3:59 pm  

    Bert:
    Do you consider market traders flogging free Nelson Mandela T-shirts to be sponsoring terrorism?

    I’m with with Rummy on this, harmless hippies selling revolutionary chic to fat old men.

  5. Rumbold — on 29th November, 2007 at 4:03 pm  

    Thinking about it some more, I reckon you really need to separate out the two issues: selling T-Shirts (unpleasant’ but should be acceptable/legal), and sending money to terrorist groups (distinctly dodgy).

  6. Don — on 29th November, 2007 at 4:17 pm  

    As far as I can tell from the article, the charge is concerned with sending money to groups classified in Denmark as terrorists. Not the T-shirts. So it doesn’t on the face of it appear to be a FoS issue.

    As for humanitarian-only funding, yeah, right.

  7. Bert Preast — on 29th November, 2007 at 4:20 pm  

    “Do you consider market traders flogging free Nelson Mandela T-shirts to be sponsoring terrorism?”

    Nope. Because it’s not. But as they’re not in court for selling t-shirts, that’s also got nothing to do with the story. The charge is ‘sponsoring terrorism’, and arises from their intention to fund terrorists.

  8. Sunny — on 29th November, 2007 at 4:54 pm  

    I think AllyF on CIF sums it up well:

    Well I’d have spent my formative years in prison then, for an assortment of ANC, FSLN, FMLN t-shirts. My facourite was a Sandino shirt, the old warrior standing proudly holding a rifle.

    This is seriously outrageous. From the country that kicked up such a fuss about freedom of expression recently, as well.

    As soon as you outlaw expressions of support for one side or other in an armed struggle, you have destroyed the fundamental premise of political freedom.

    I think I might go buy a bunch of those shirts and give them to everyone as a Christmas present. The fact that I am broadly dubious about both PFLP and Farc from a political perspective is utterly beside the point.

    But then who is surprised that ‘free speech’ usually only goes one way?

  9. Refresh — on 29th November, 2007 at 5:03 pm  

    AllyF broadly gets it right.

    The fact that a country can designate a group in a far and distant land as objectionable should not mean we all agree with it.

    It gets worse. The US is thinking of designating a section of an army in another country as terrorist. And of course in turn that country designates the CIA as terrorists.

    Pathetic.

    And as for Denmark, are they serious about their politics? Sounds like the whole country has become a bit like the Monday Club and Young Conservatives rolled into one.

  10. Jo — on 29th November, 2007 at 5:10 pm  

    @ Sunny
    “But then who is surprised that ‘free speech’ usually only goes one way?”

    Sunny, what has this actually got to do with freedom of speech? It’s not that these people were giving an expression of support by selling their t-shirts, it’s that they were giving money to people who have been decided by the government of the country they reside in to be responsible for actively and deliberately commit atrocities against civilians and acts of terrorism. Ergo, they’ve broken the law.

    Now I’m more than happy for those people to lobby the government of Denmark to change the law even though I feel that FARC and PFLP are both disgusting organisations with disgusting tactics. Then, they can sell all the t-shirts they want. That’s political freedom and no-one is claiming that they can’t do this I take it?

    Until that happens, these young provocateurs have got all they deserve. If I found out that someone had been sending money in a similar way to C18, PIRA or Kach, I would feel exactly the same way.

  11. ZinZin — on 29th November, 2007 at 5:18 pm  

    A lot of people have found them guilty already.

  12. Sofia — on 29th November, 2007 at 5:45 pm  

    I don’t get this..are they being done for selling the tshirts in the first place? glamourising terrorists? or for donating to dodgy “humanitarian” causes??
    If it’s the first, then surely if all those crappy tourist shops in london selling osama bin laden masks were in denmark, then they would be tried as well presumably?

  13. chrisc — on 29th November, 2007 at 5:45 pm  

    Sunny and others – just to repeat what Jo has said, these guys are accused of sending money to terrorist groups, not with selling shirts.
    Nothing to do with FoS.
    Why are you deliberately confusing the two issues?

    I am always happy when idiots who think it cool to support thugs like the PFLP are screwed though!

  14. shariq — on 29th November, 2007 at 6:27 pm  

    Chrisc and Jo. I think you have a point. The guardian article gives the impression that one of the detained was being prosecuted for simply putting a poster on his van. However it appears that all the members are being prosecuted for sending money to Farc and the PFLP.

    However, according to the Copenhagen Post another group also publicly decided to send funds to Farc. But because they were made up of members of the Danish resistance during WW2, they aren’t being prosecuted.

    http://www.cphpost.dk/get/104412.html

    On reflection, it seems that the issue isn’t so much FoS, but that other old debate about who gets to define who a terrorist is.

    I don’t know much about the Danish Constitution, but I do find it remarkable that their courts will actually get to make this decision. In England, there is no way that the court’s have jurisdiction to deal with something which seems like a foreign policy issue.

  15. shariq — on 29th November, 2007 at 6:30 pm  

    Another point. I think we would all agree that people who knowingly send funds to Al-Qaida deserve to be prosecuted, but what about Irish Americans who sent funds to the IRA, or has been pointed out people who sent funds to the ANC in South Africa.

  16. sonia — on 29th November, 2007 at 6:36 pm  

    Not sure why you think FARC aren’t on the radar for a lot of people -there is the whole Latin America socialist crew – aren’t you missing them out?>

  17. Don — on 29th November, 2007 at 8:06 pm  

    Interesting point about the resistance veterans, shariq. Have they presented a rationale for supporting FARC over, say, Burmese resistance grroups. FARC just seem an odd group to compare with the Danish resistance.

    However, as they seem to have sent a cheque for less than £100 and promptly informed the Justice Ministry it seems to have been less a case of funding terrorists and more one of ‘Arrest me, go on, I dare you.’ It’s a perfectly legitimate tactic, but prosecution services are probably all too familiar with it and are not obliged to play.

    The T-shirt johnnies seem not to have been too politically motivated but more concerned that getting a tangible connection to scary people with guns would boost their street cred. Writing a cheque is a nice safe way of doing that. Of course I could be doing them an injustice based on sketchy information, they could turn out to be deeply committed and thoughtful political activists who just appear to be smug tossers.

    I agree that this is really about who defines terrorism, and that debate is a good thing for freedom of speech, if the decision makers have to get up in open court and make their criteria plain.

    But the actual shirt case is not about FoS, as (AFAIK) there is nothing to stop anybody making, selling or wearing the garments. Just not allowed to send money to groups currently defined by a democratic government as terrorist.

    On your point about the IRA and the ANC, morally you could argue either way, but legally it depends on the status of those organisations status at the time.

  18. Don — on 29th November, 2007 at 8:07 pm  

    oops. scratch second ‘status’.

  19. chrisc — on 29th November, 2007 at 9:56 pm  

    Legally it possibly does turn on the status of their status!! :-)

  20. soru — on 29th November, 2007 at 10:32 pm  

    What they did was sell a product in order to support armed action abroad.

    If that was legal, it would also be legal for, say, United Fruit to openly hire someone to kill Chavez, BP to fund a seperatist movement in Iran, a reformed East India company to hire mercenaries to conquer Burma.

    What is supposed to be remotely morally controversial about the idea that the murder of foreigners should not be legal?

  21. Bert Preast — on 29th November, 2007 at 11:45 pm  

    The rumours of my planning a coup in Iran are absolutely unfounded.

    *shifty*

  22. Don — on 29th November, 2007 at 11:50 pm  

    Eschew emoticons.

  23. Bert Preast — on 30th November, 2007 at 12:09 am  

    Smileys spurned? :(

  24. alan — on 30th November, 2007 at 12:39 am  
  25. Jim — on 30th November, 2007 at 1:24 am  

    Shocking. Almost as bad as the accusations at the website above, click my name to download the audio that was just sent to CNN.

  26. Ravi Naik — on 1st December, 2007 at 4:18 pm  

    “This is seriously outrageous….As soon as you outlaw expressions of support for one side or other in an armed struggle, you have destroyed the fundamental premise of political freedom….The fact that I am broadly dubious about both PFLP and Farc from a political perspective is utterly beside the point.”

    But then who is surprised that ‘free speech’ usually only goes one way?”

    Let me get this straight, Sunny. You believe that preventing people from supporting groups that use violent tactics, kidnappings and killings to achieve their means is a serious violation of freedom of speech? I must say I am getting increasingly disappointed by your comments.

  27. Don — on 1st December, 2007 at 4:35 pm  

    I agree with alan.

  28. Ravi Naik — on 1st December, 2007 at 4:47 pm  

    Let me say one more thing.

    I find it morally corrupt that people living in cozy Europe are financing groups that bring so much misery to innocent civilians in the second and third world. I wonder how anyone would feel about people in Europe or in the second and third world financing Al Qaeda. Disgusted? Yes, that’s because this organisation is committed in attacking us in Europe, with 7/7 bombings, etc. It doesn’t look like we would support that “freedom of speech” when our lives are in jeopardy, or would we?

    But yet, we feel like it is an outrageous violation of freedom of speech when we stop people from financing terrorist organisations far from our sight? How lovely.

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