Round Three in the Trial of Lars Hedegaard

Though evidence of the truth of the statements is no defense, that did not stop the prosecutor in the Superior Court trial from raising the issue himself.  According to Hedegaard, “Of course I wasn’t asked about evidence in favor of my contention that sexual assaults are prevalent or a big problem in Muslim culture.” He went on to say, “But the prosecutor took the liberty of referring to the content of what I had said and said you can’t even prove that.  Which of course was quite true -- I couldn’t prove it because I wasn’t allowed to prove any of it.”  But beyond Hedegaard, who is being prosecuted for daring to raise the issues, who are the real victims of our not being able to have an open and honest discussion about sexual violence in any community?

The end of privacy?

Article 266(b), by its plain language, requires that for statements to be actionable under the provision, they must be made “publicly or with the intent of public dissemination.” Hedegaard maintains that he never intended his remarks, which were not made in public, to be publicly disseminated. The lower court found this issue dispositive in his case and acquitted him.  In a statement following his acquittal, Hedegaard said that his “detractors” might claim he was acquitted on a mere technicality. While it is a “technicality” in one sense -- Hedegaard’s right to say what he did should not rest on such unsure footing as whether a statement was made publicly or privately -- that technicality has implications for privacy, too.  Hedegaard explains:

I fully agree that I was acquitted on a technicality. There is no question about that.  But it goes further than that.  If I had been convicted as I eventually was [in the Superior Court] then of course it goes to the problem of privacy.  What can you say in your home? What can you say among a small circle of friends or supposed friends if somebody overhears what you are saying? Somebody with a cell phone can take down what you are saying and claim that you said that and you should have known that he was there with a tape recorder with him. You can then be convicted. In that case we will be close to a totalitarian state in which the right of privacy no longer exists.

In my case I knew that I was being taped because the interviewer wanted to publicize something. I had no idea that I was also being filmed. The crucial point, however, is that of course I had not given the interviewer permission to just disseminate my remarks without giving me a chance to review them. I never give interviews without making sure that nothing is disseminated without my consent. This time the interviewer presented himself as a friend and admirer. He turned out not to be. In fact, he later witnessed against me. So I maintain that my remarks were private and not public. Otherwise you would have to condone entrapment in your own home.

The fact that the world’s thought police are willing to go after speech even in the private sphere reveals just how intent they are to impose their PC-limitations on the rest of us -- truth, public debate on critical issues, and now privacy be damned.  If you failed to understand where “hate speech” laws were leading us, let this turn of events underscore the point for you.

To be clear, a merely offensive remark should not be actionable whether made in public or private.  Trying to keep all offensive speech within the private sphere is no solution. Indeed, much worthy public debate has the concomitant effect of hurting somebody’s feelings.  That is part and parcel of healthy, open discussion -- and life, frankly -- a lesson the “sticks and stones” adage of childhood should have taught us.

But the lesson Hedegaard’s prosecution is teaching us is very different. It isn’t about the punishment of one man. It is a lesson about the state of freedom of speech in the West today.