UK Politician Arrested Over Twitter Joke

British politics has a tradition of being rife with very public conflict (fights in Parliament, anyone?), and some of that conflict lead to the arrest of a local council member after he called for the stoning of an Muslim journalist on Twitter. Guessing this will impact his future job prospects in some way. I’m sure arrest wasn’t the outcome he expected, but the UK has already arrested one person for joking about blowing up a plane on Twitter.

-Lesly

November 11, 2010, 2:02 pm

British Politician Arrested for Twitter Joke

By Robert Mackey, New York Times

An English politician was arrested on Thursday for joking on Twitter that a columnist he disagreed with should be stoned to death.

Gareth Compton, a 38-year-old member of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party who serves in local government in Birmingham, was suspended by the party following his arrest, Britain’s Press Association reported.

The same day a British court refused to overturn the conviction of another man who had joked on the social network that he would blow up an airport if his flight was delayed.

Mr. Compton, who seemed to spend much of Wednesday sparring with political opponents on his Twitter feed — which was removed from the network as this post was being written — was apparently enraged by comments a newspaper columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, made on a BBC radio program.

During a discussion of Mr. Cameron’s criticism of the Chinese government for human-rights abuses, Ms. Alibhai-Brown said that any British politician who supported the Iraq war lacked the moral authority to lecture other nations. Mr. Compton then posted his mock plea for her execution by stoning.

One Twitter user with whom Mr. Compton had been arguing, Lisa Ansell, quickly replied to his note: writing, “you called for a Muslim journalist to be STONED and had the audacity to criticise me refusing to condemn student protests?” (In her Twitter biography, Ms. Ansell says that she is “Not a politico — just concerned about the country I live in! Politics is bollocks.)

Mr. Compton then removed his attack on Ms. Alibhai-Brown and wrote on his now-deleted account:

I did not ‘call’ for the stoning of anybody. I made an ill-conceived attempt at humour in response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown saying on Radio 5 Live this morning that no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran. I apologize for any offence caused. It was wholly unintentional.

Writing about the incident in a blog post for a decidedly anti-Conservative British magazine, The New Statesman, George Eaton called the arrest, “an extraordinarily disproportionate response.” He added:

Compton’s ‘joke’ was crass (and rather sinister), but it was clearly not a threat of violence. … the fact he has been arrested is an insult to all free-thinking liberals. We can ridicule and condemn the likes of Compton ourselves, we don’t need the police to get involved.

Ms. Alibhai-Brown, who writes for London’s Evening Standard and the Independent, told the Guardian on Wednesday: “It’s really upsetting. My teenage daughter is really upset too. It’s really scared us.” She added:

You just don’t do this. I have a lot of threats on my life. It’s incitement. I’m going to the police – I want them to know that a law’s been broken…. If I as a Muslim woman had tweeted that it would be a blessing if Gareth Compton was stoned to death I’d be arrested immediately. I don’t think the ‘nasty Tories’ went away.

In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News on Thursday, Ms. Alibhai-Brown said that she refused to accept Mr. Compton’s “flippant little apology” for a remark she called “incitement.” She added that she has previously been threatened by Muslim extremists for her reporting on Islam, and said, “There are people who genuinely want me dead — he validates them and that can’t be right.”

If nothing else, Mr. Compton’s Twitter meltdown has seemingly validated comments Mr. Cameron made earlier this year about the dangers of the social network to politicians. “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it,” Mr. Cameron warned, is how easy it makes it for public figures to post ill-advised comments — which he referred to as “twits.”

(Original Story at New York Times)

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