Retweeting ISIS is now a criminal offence

Candice Holdsworth

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Topics Free Speech

A 57-year-old mother of three has been charged with a criminal offence for retweeting.

Mary Kaya, from Batley, west Yorkshire, was found guilty of ‘distributing a terrorist publication’ after she retweeted a noxious audio rant by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Last week she was given a 21-month suspended prison sentence at Leeds Crown Court.

According to the Telegraph, her Twitter profile (where she had amassed a grand total of 30 followers) had been monitored by the security services ever since her husband was arrested during a raid by counter-terrorism police at a house in west Yorkshire. Kaya had been on the government de-radicalisation programme since April last year.

It’s difficult to sympathise with someone who agrees with the sadistic, murderous ideas of Baghdadi. But it is precisely cases like Kaya’s that test our commitment to free speech. Freedom of speech must be consistently defended and asserted – even when people say abhorrent things. A defence of free speech is especially crucial when the victim of censorship holds disgusting views. Indeed, people are most likely to question free speech when they are confronted by an idea that they feel threatens their security.

And, in the interests of security, it is much better to have zealots and extremists express their hateful ideas in the open where they can be properly scrutinised and confronted. Censorship will only drive bad ideas underground and make the task of defeating them that much harder. As Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens puts it: ‘If political fanatics are permitted to organise and publish in the open, we will be much better able to know what they are doing and to observe their interaction with actual men of violence.’

Freedom of speech is the ultimate right from which all others flow. Societies cannot progress if individuals are not able to put forward arguments, opinions and notions that challenge conventional wisdom. The philosopher Galileo was charged with ‘heresy’ by the inquisition in 1633, for stating that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Kaya may be a million miles away from Galileo, but censoring her is still unjust.

Candice Holdsworth is the founder and editor of Imagine Athena.

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Topics Free Speech