Ricky Gervais has leapt to the defense of a Scottish comedian who has been found guilty of a hate crime after he taught his dog to give Nazi salutes in response to anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler comments, and posted videos of the trick to YouTube.
Thirty-year-old YouTuber Mark Meechan, of Glasgow, uploaded a three-minute video in 2016 in which his girlfriend’s pug is seen raising its paw in response to phrases such as “Sieg Heil,” “Gas the Jews,” and watching videos of speeches by Hitler.
Meechan ends the video, which has been viewed over three million times, by saying “I’m not racist, I just really wanted to piss my girlfriend off.”
Critics who accuse Meechan of hate speech were quick to point out that Meechan was supported at court by Tommy Robinson, former leader of ultra far-right group the English Defense League.
Meechan, who performs and YouTubes under the name Count Dankula, has now been found guilty of a charge under Britain’s Communications Act.
A judge said the video was “grossly offensive” because it was “anti-Semitic and racist in nature” and was aggravated by religious prejudice. Meechan is due to be sentenced next month and could face jail time.
However Meechan’s case has now become a favored cause among celebrities and politicians—although they’ve been at pains to stress they ’t find anti-Semitism funny. British standup comedian Ricky Gervais is among those who have blasted the ruling as an attack on freedom of speech.
Several other comedians and political figures have also come to Meechan’s defense, claiming his prosecution endangers freedom of expression.
The judge said he suspected Meechan left the video on YouTube to drive traffic to other material he had on there.
He added: “In my view, it is a reasonable conclusion that the video is grossly offensive. The description of the video as humorous is no magic wand. This court has taken the freedom of expression into consideration. But the right to freedom of expression also comes with responsibility.”