The story of Tommy Robinson cautions that freedom of speech and freedom of activity in public in the digital era are at stake. As a conservative activist, Tommy, has been harassed by the state and the media corporations for years. Their goal is clear – to put a man to a digital death, erase him simply for his views. Can a human be switched off just like one shuts down a computer?
Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defense League (EDL), has been involved in civic journalism for a long time. Reporting on crimes perpetrated by mostly Muslim men, he gives voice to their victims. He impedes the cover up done by the media and state of rapes and brutal assaults. He rejects political correctness, openly criticizing Islamization in the UK.
All this makes him a public enemy. Sent to prison several times for minor offenses, normally tolerated when committed by other citizens (like inflating one’s income by adding to it a loan application), he would often be met with a punishment incommensurate with his offenses. True, any offenses shouldn’t have been committed in the first place, but Tommy would receive treatment worthy of the most serious criminals. Like when a judge punished Tommy for contempt of the office of the court by reporting on a trial while standing on the stairs of the courthouse. As a result, the next morning a heavy group of policemen appeared at Tommy’s house to arrest him in front of his wife and children as if he was a particularly dangerous offender. Piling on top, the press wrote that Tommy also assaulted a police officer a while back. This was in reference to an incident when the EDL founder beat a man during a march he helped to organize. As it turned out, it was a plainclothes officer that joined an altercation that was already happening between Robinson and a neo-Nazi provocateur who, despite calls, refused to leave the congregation. His presence at the march was having an undesired effect of perpetuating Robinson’s image as a “right-wing extremist.” Tommy got penalized for this incident then. Here, however, the court sounded as if Tommy was to be punished twice for the same offense, which is against the law. Finally, committing an offense should never deprive a man of his fundamental civil rights.
After unsuccessful (at least for now) attempts by the authorities to lock Tommy away in prison for a long time, it is now the turn of the media giants, who openly fight the insubordinate activist. Robinson’s accounts were permanently removed from Facebook and Twitter, which stripped his ability to speak in his own defense and, in a broader sense, it de-platformed him from the public sphere. The pretext for censoring and then closing Robinson’s accounts were accusations of “hate speech” towards Muslims. Media giants did not, however, provide any concrete evidence in this matter. Today, any public debate without social media is simply impossible. What’s more, Robinson was curtailed from freely raising funds for his activity. Donations can no longer be made to him via PayPal. Similarly, Youtube demonetized his channel for advertisements being displayed there. Amazon has suspended the distribution of his books. This decision coincided with the premiere of a documentary revealing manipulation of the BBC against Robinson. In a word, the centers of power (including the media) are doing everything to shut Tommy’s mouth and extinguish his visibility to anyone.
Today, one doesn’t need legal sentencing to keep one quiet, to deprive them of the right to defend themselves, and finally to cut their freedom to act in a public sphere. All is needed is for the big private companies to get together and make an agreement. It is them who decide now who can and who can not function in the public space. Facebook’s Terms and Conditions are more important than the constitutional guarantees of civil rights. It is in our common interest to propose a legal solution where the right to speak could only be revoked by a court order. Everyone should have the right to defend their name and be subject to the principle of the presumption of innocence. Regardless of whether one is a supporter of Robinson’s views or his fierce opponent, we all ought to defend our common good – freedom of speech.
I had the opportunity to interview Tommy Robinson myself. I remember the content of our conversation perfectly. Shortly after the release of the British version of the interview the video was blocked on Youtube, although not a single hateful word was uttered. The interview, however, shed doubt on the common stereotype of Tommy as a xenophobe, generally harboring animosity toward immigrants. I recall how Robinson, signing his book, wrote: “Respect to Poland.”
As publicists and journalists here at euroislam.pl, we’ve experienced attempts to discredit us many times before (though on a completely different scale if compared to Tommy). One of the TV journalists was intentionally trying to provoke my colleague, Jan Wójcik, “to speak tougher about Muslims.” He was trying to get him to look like a moron, though confronted with rational answers his task wasn’t easy. Another time, a journalist of “Gazeta Wyborcza” assigned me the identity of the activist from Młodzież Wszechpolska (Polish ultraconservative group), although my views definitely do not fall within the framework of nationalism, quite the contrary. The reporter did not even bother to call me to get my response before throwing charges. One researcher, Konrad Pędziwiatr, in a publication sponsored by a “non-governmental” organization associated with the regime of Erdogan, blatantly lied about us, assigning intentions we do not have and positions we do not represent.
All this makes me stand on the side of freedom of speech, because I know how easy it is to paint someone as what they aren’t and create a false story with the help of the media.
The Polish original: Skazany bez wyroku