Power of arrest used against Belfast blogger…

Malachi O’Doherty points to a disturbing development, that could have widespread implications, not simply for bloggers, but for any journalists in their legitimate business of tracking down a story. It’s with regard to a Belfast blogger called Alan Murray, who has been using his blog Holylands Warzone to campaign against the privatisation of public housing in his local area of Belfast. Malachi notes:

He is on a very important issue here and he has been writing about it more eloquently than most – and got beaten up for his trouble. But the worry for bloggers is that they can be prosecuted for naming public figures whose conduct they question! And if a blogger can be prosecuted for this, then so can a journalist.

Update: Tim picks up on the story, and very usefully points us in the direction of some critical background on the loosely worded legislation that allows it… who in turn cites this piece from George Monbiot…

Update 2 Incoming from Instapundit, hold on tight… And: New Slugger post here.He also provides a timeline with Murray’s version of what happened. The critical point, from journalist’s or blogger’s point of view is that the PSNI have responded to a complaint against writing on the Internet under the law of criminal harassment. Indeed, Murray claims to have been arrested twice: first on 2nd July and then again on 27th September last year.

I cannot and do not wish to speak to the veracity of Murray’s claims against the individuals named on his website. Free speech is rightly moderated by a civil code that gives both sides the opportunity to put their case before a court of law.

There is certainly a case for the involvement of the police if a blogger, or one of their commenters implies physical threats against a specific individual. But I’ve been through Murray’s blog and have not been able to find any evidence of such; which might explain why no charges appear to have been preferred.

If Malachi is right, the use of police power of arrest appears to have been used directly against a citizen for criticising several public figures on the Internet. That’s a development that should worry more than just the citizens of Belfast.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty