Blogger wins right to free speech

作者:Henry McDonald 来源:The Observer

A blogger who faced charges of intimidation in cyberspace has won a legal judgment that anti-censorship campaigners claimed this weekend will protect freedom of expression across the worldwide web.

Alan Murray's blog highlighting violence, vandalism and creeping sectarian division in a part of Belfast's university district landed him in court on Friday.

The 40-year-old was charged with three counts of intimidating a member of a local residents' committee, which included intimidation on the internet. The judge, however, found Murray not guilty on all counts at Belfast's Magistrates' Court. Index on Censorship - a global campaign group that defends free speech - welcomed the judge's ruling this weekend.

Murray's blog,, details allegations of violent drunkenness involving university students in what was once the most religiously integrated area of the city during the Troubles. The two-year-old blog also criticises university authorities, landlords and the local housing authority for allowing the Holy Land district, where all the streets have names from the Bible, to become a 'student ghetto' that has driven out residents who have lived there for decades. He also claims the area has become mono-religious, as most of the students come from Catholic areas of rural Northern Ireland.

Last year, however, a member of the local residents' association objected to Murray's blog and also made allegations against him, claiming he had given her a dirty look and made a verbal threat. Murray, a mature psychology student, has always denied any intimidation.

In an interview with The Observer this weekend, Murray said he felt 'totally vindicated' after Mr Justice McKillop threw out all three charges against him.

'During my testimony in court I said I was only trying to criticise those in power or those that would speak for us. That right has been upheld by the judge's decision. If the judge had ruled against me, then every blogger would have been vulnerable to charges of intimidation because those at the end of their criticism could claim they were being picked upon. A very bad precedent would have been set,' he said.

Murray said the ruling also established that bloggers had the same rights to freedom of expression as journalists. 'Bloggers don't have legal departments and large media organisations to back them up. They are vulnerable people and would have been even more open to censure if this case had gone the other way.'

He also revealed that he has reported the Police Service of Northern Ireland to the Police Ombudsman's office. Murray said he made a complaint to Northern Ireland's police watchdog over a number of officers' conduct in the case.

'I want the Ombudsman to find out why on earth police officers saw fit to prosecute me for expressing an opinion on the internet about where I lived. I also intend to sue the police over this entire waste of police time and resources, which took more than a year to reach this point,' Murray added.

Index on Censorship also criticised the PSNI's intervention in the debate between Murray and his opponents. Padraig Reidy, Index's news editor, described the PSNI's behaviour as 'patently absurd.'

Reidy compared the Belfast blogger's case to that of Channel 4's battle with the West Midlands Police over its Undercover Mosque programme. Channel 4 earlier this year won £100,000 from the police force and the Crown Prosecution Service for falsely accusing the production team of distorting television footage.

'The case of the Belfast blogger is as important as Undercover Mosque in terms of protecting the right to criticise and the freedom to inquire. The judgment in Belfast protects the blogosphere's freedom and it means the rich, powerful or any interest groups, whoever they are, can't bully bloggers using the law.

'As for the police in this case, they and the law should not be intervening in legitimate debate,' Reidy said.