British police have arrested a man who allegedly posted a picture of a burning poppy on Facebook, along with an offensive statement.
The 19-year-old man from Aylesham in Kent was arrested on Sunday evening. Sunday, the 11th of November, was Remembrance Day in the UK, in which the poppy is a symbol for soldiers who have died on the battlefield.
"Our officers were contacted around 4pm yesterday and alerted to the picture which was reportedly accompanied by an offensive comment," a Kent Police spokeswoman told ZDNet UK on Monday morning, adding that the arrested teenager would be questioned on Monday morning.
The man was arrested "on suspicion of malicious telecommunications", the force said. This suggests that he is suspected of an offence under Section 127(1)(a) of the Communications Act 2003.
The same law has previously been used to prosecute 'Twitter joke trial' defendant Paul Chambers, who Azhar Ahmed, who was sentenced to 240 hours' community service a month ago for saying on Facebook that "all soldiers should die and go to hell"., as well as several others in recent months. Perhaps the most relevant analogy would be that of
Others prosecuted under the same law this year alone include Matthew Woods (jailed for 12 weeks for making jokes on Facebook about the missing child April Jones), Joshua Cryer (given a two-year community order for making racist tweets about footballer Stan Collymore), and John Kerlen (sentenced to 80 hours' unpaid labour for referring to a local councillor as a 'c**t' in a tweet).
The number of complaints over social media posts has been steadily rising — there were 2,490 last year — and director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer has been working on new guidelines for police, to ensure that people's right to be offensive is "protected".
Quoted in The Guardian, Index on Censorship campaigner Padraig Reidy said the burning poppy case was "very worrying".
"Index hopes that when the [Crown Prosecution Service] issues its guidelines on free speech later this month, due regard will be given to free speech online," Reidy said.
The arrest has prompted a '#poppycock' hashtag on Twitter, in which people are venting their frustration over the matter. One entry comes from David Allen Green, the lawyer who represented Chambers in his trial: