21 Western countries, including Ireland, have issued a well-deserved condemnation of China’s recent crackdown on free speech and the press in Hong Kong.
In a statement released by the US Department of State, members of the Media Freedom Coalition expressed their “deep concern” at the Chinese authorities’ “attacks on freedom of the press and their suppression of independent local media in Hong Kong.”
“Since the enactment of the National Security Law in June 2020, authorities have targeted and suppressed independent media in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” the nations said, adding that “this has eroded the protected rights and freedoms set out in the Basic Law.”
“This has also caused the near-complete disappearance of local independent media outlets in Hong Kong. These ongoing actions further undermine confidence in Hong Kong’s international reputation through the suppression of human rights, freedom of speech and free flow and exchange of opinions and information.”
This document was signed by the governments of Ireland, Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Now, of course it’s absolutely true to say that the Communist Party of China is an oppressive, totalitarian regime which seeks to stamp out all forms of dissent or wrongthink. And needless to say, the Chinese State deserves loud and frequent condemnation for that.
The issue arises, however, when you consider the fact that many countries on that list – such as Ireland and the United Kingdom – don’t have a great track record of free speech themselves in recent years.
Of course our violations were nowhere near as bad as China’s, and we still have much more freedom than people living in Hong Kong. Nobody sane would argue otherwise. But our position in condemning these behaviours is much weaker today than it was several years ago.
Ireland, for example, is currently in the process of making so-called “hate speech” a criminal offence carrying a prison sentence of up to six months – a policy which has been in the works for years.
Today I launched the findings of the @DeptJusticeIRL consultation on Hate Speech and Hate Crime, which is an important step in the process of reforming and updating our laws in this area. You can read the document here 👉 https://t.co/gtOWIWekAa pic.twitter.com/KiUuulhssA
— Helen McEntee TD (@HMcEntee) December 17, 2020
Needless to say, nobody wants to live in a society where hateful rhetoric is normalised. But it’s a fact that other countries which have introduced such laws have used them extremely liberally, in both senses of the word.
This is to say that for exmaple, a biological male with a penis and testicles identifies as a “she,” and you call them “he” in a tweet. Or maybe you express your opinion that there are only two genders and you don’t believe in this “trans” phenomenon. Next thing you know, you have police at your door over this act of “hate.”
Groups such as the Faculty of Advocates in the UK, which represents many of the country’s most senior lawyers, have warned that such laws have a “chilling effect” on debate and public discourse. Which, at the end of the day, may be the whole point. And now the policies that led to this in the UK are soon to be in force in Ireland.
Moreover, in 2019, Irish TDs met Mark Zuckerberg to urge his company to stamp out so-called “fake news” and “disinformation.”
TDs to meet Mark Zuckerberg in Facebook Dublin HQ tomorrow to chat about fake news https://t.co/qhvTjILJSG
— TheJournal.ie (@thejournal_ie) April 1, 2019
Similarly, Britain is currently in the process of trying to outlaw the sharing of “dangerous disinformation about hoax Covid-19 treatments,” putting this into the category of “criminal content” and urging Big Tech sites to remove such posts.
To the gullible or naive this may seem reasonable – after all, who wants “dangerous misinformation” to be spread online?
Well, as must always be pointed out that on so-called “disinformation,” even supposed experts do not, and can never know with 100% certainty what is true and what is false regarding medical science.
From the efficacy of masks (which scientists used to say did nothing and later swore by), to the Wuhan lab leak theory (which they first called a baseless conspiracy theory and later said seemed likely) and the masking of children in schools (which they first said was unnecessary and later introduced), there have been endless u-turns in the scientific consensus over the past 2 years.
"[If you're not infected] there's no evidence that wearing a face mask will protect you at all."
– Professor Luke O'Neill on RTÉ One's Late Late Show, Friday, 28th of February 2020 pic.twitter.com/zvbYSULyQz
— Ben Scallan 🇮🇪 (@Ben_Scallan) November 5, 2021
So for governments to clamp down on this or that theory and dub it “criminal” simply because they don’t currently agree with it is a serious overreaction and infringement on free debate.
Here at Gript we covered how during the pandemic the HSE was running around falsely labeling numerous posts as “disinformation” on social media, including articles from the New York TImes and an associate editor for the British Medical Journal, early reports that the AZ and J&J jabs could be linked to blood clots (which we now know was true) and even posts which included no medical claims whatsoever but which expressed critical views about certain high-ranking medical individuals or academics.
We’ve even had Irish politicians calling for certain protests against the government to be outright banned.
— Independent.ie (@Independent_ie) February 28, 2021
It’s at least arguable that some Western states are weaponising these laws and policies to crush speech they don’t like. Which is exactly what we are complaining that the CCP is doing.
None of this is to exonerate China or let them off the hook – far from it, they’re one of the biggest threats to world freedom in existence today. They urgently need to be held to account.
The point is, quite simply, that the West has squandered our moral high ground and credibility in this area. We have given despotic foreign regimes no reason to listen to our moral preaching.
We seem to have adopted a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude, where we expect 3rd world dictators like the Kim Jong Uns of this world to respect the rights of their citizens, while ignoring those rights at home for our own.
The next time Xi, or Putin, or Erdogan, or some other strongman gets a telling off from the international community for censoring dissent, what’s to stop them from turning around and saying “Well you lot did it. You Westerners arrest people for saying men can’t get pregnant. Why can’t we arrest people for insulting Communism, or Islam, or whatever other ideology we want?”
And what would we say to that in reply exactly? We have no real comeback at the end of the day. We haven’t got a leg to stand on, and we have Western governments to thank for that.