March 20th, 2018 – Markus Meechan, a Scottish YouTuber known more widely as Count Dankula, has been found guilty under the Communications Act after his viral “Nazi Pug” comedy video was deemed “grossly offensive.” Meechan will not be sentenced until April when he could face jail time for the conviction.
The case has gotten international attention and gained support from both comedians and those on the far-right. Many view this trial as another opportunity to defend free speech and dismantle laws which would stifle people’s ability to express themselves for fear of legal consequences.
Ricky Gervais has been a loud voice in this debate taking to Twitter today to express his outrage over the guilty verdict. The standup comedian and star of The Office even used a subject that he vehemently disagrees with to demonstrate how he would stand up against the government if they tried to crack down.
A man has been convicted in a UK court of making a joke that was deemed “grossly offensive”. 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.
I fucking hate religion. I’ve criticised and ridiculed it for 40 years. Yet if my government tried to ban it or criminalise it, I would march alongside those poor fools and fight hard for their right to believe any fucking stupid nonsense they chose.
Meechan’s video, “M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi,” is still available to watch on YouTube though it now has a message preceding the clip that reads “The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.” At the beginning of the 2-minute video, Meechan says “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is, and so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing that I could think of which is a Nazi.”
The Count then shows the fruits of his training labor as the dog responds (sometimes by giving a Nazi paw salute) to the commands “Sieg Heil” and “Gas the Jews.” At the end of the video, he says “I’m not a racist, by the way. I just really, really wanted to piss her [girlfriend] off.”
Meechan’s girlfriend defended him by testifying in court.
“I’m so used to him being cute and I carry him about like a baby and he was using it in the video to look like a monster,” she said. “He made my cute wee dog look like a monster, Nazis are monsters.”
Sheriff O’Carroll, who gave his verdict to the court, disagreed. He believes that Meechan knew the material was anti-Semitic, offensive, and was not done for the purpose of comedy. O’Carroll handed out the ruling saying Meechan was guilty of sending by “means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”
Outside the courthouse reporters and activists shared their thoughts while awaiting the verdict. Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League, was streaming live on YouTube as he gave viewers updates on what the defense attorney and prosecutors were saying. Defense attorney Ross Brown cited that there was no evidence to suggest Meechan intended to cause fear or alarm and that not one person filed a complaint in the case.
In his post-trial speech to journalists, Meechan said he will appeal the conviction, which he views as a miscarriage of justice. He said it was a dark day for freedom of speech and freedom of expression while maintaining that he made the video simply as a joke to annoy his girlfriend.
“Today, context and intent was completely disregarded. To disregard such things like that means that your actions no longer matter. They disable your context and intent. So for any comedians in Britain, I’d be very, very worried about making jokes in the future because your context and intent behind them apparently don’t matter anymore.”
What are your thoughts on the trial and conviction of Count Dankula? How will this affect the continued fight for free speech?