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Speaking is a crime? 27/10/1999
An Australian citizen, Dr Fredrick Toben, was arrested in Germany in April 1999 and will go on trial in early November. Toben is a Holocaust revisionist who runs The Adelaide Institute, a site which has been featured here for some time. It is apparently that web site (located in Australia) which has triggered his arrest. I have no time for Toben's opinions, but I believe that his arrest is an outrageous assault on free speech. That someone can be charged with a crime in one country for an opinion published in another country of which he is both a resident and a citizen should frighten anyone who puts their words on the Internet or in a book.
People might ask why I object to Dr Toben's arrest when I was overjoyed at the arrest of not-a-medical-Dr Hulda Clark. The difference is simple. Toben's opinions may be offensive buffoonery and misguided nonsense but those opinions can't hurt anything except people's feelings. What Clark says and does can actually kill people by deceiving those with terminal or serious illnesses and encouraging them to give up proper medical care.
Off to prison 15/11/1999
Dr Toben was sentenced to 10 months in prison, but the judge ruled that, as he had already served seven months since his arrest, he could be released upon payment of a $5000 bond. The odd length of the sentence, which just happened to allow immediate release, and the small financial penalty (bond, no fine) suggest that the judge was doing the minimum he had to do to comply with the ludicrous laws and keep his job.
Censorship alert (22/10/2000)
It is again my unfortunate and anomalous duty to complain about the treatment of Dr Frederick Toben and his ghastly Adelaide Institute web site. The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has ordered him to close the site and apologise to people he has offended. Dr Toben may be a daft buffoon for all I know (I have never met him), but all there is on the site is a collection of words. Dr Toben denies that the Holocaust happened (or at least that it happened in the manner and scale that most people think) and he is wrong, but closing his site will not stop people talking the way he does and will only make him look like a martyr.
Rulings of the HREOC are not enforceable at law, but this ruling will encourage people to use the Commission in attempts to silence critics rather than use what I believe to be more effective tactics such as highlighting their nonsense, ridicule, or even offering convincing counterarguments. I am often asked why I use this site to "publicise" things I don't like, and my answer is that the first step to combat something you don't like is to expose it to examination. As Mohamed Ali said, you "can't hit what [you] can't see".
I said above that "Dr Toben may be a daft buffoon". Since then, I have attended a conference where Dr Toben was a participant. I didn't get a chance to talk to him, but I don't think the "daft" part fits. I also respect his courage in turning up to an event where he was unlikely to be warmly welcomed. It says much about how civilised people behave that Dr Toben was able to sit in the same room as people implacably opposed to his views (including the person who initiated the HREOC complaint) and even be allowed to speak. Yes, there were some examples of body language and seating choice which indicated that some people would have preferred Dr Toben to be elsewhere, but nobody ever suggested throwing him out or silencing him. I wonder whether the same courtesies would be extended to a dissenter at a Holocaust denial conference.
None of this, of course, should be construed as me giving any support to Dr Toben's views. On his site, I agree with the words "and, "the, and "but" and not much else. The fact that we all turned up in the right place at the right date and time shows that there are things on which we can agree. I suspect, however, that this is close to the limit of consensus.
In September 2002, the Federal Court of Australia ordered that certain material be removed from the Adelaide Institute web site. I believe that the answer to speech is more speech, not suppression. You can read my comments about free speech here.