This happened not in China, but in the UK: in January 2019, the police showed up at the workplace of their former colleague Harry Miller in northern England. They wanted to have a word about something he had posted on Twitter.
Miller was told he was “in trouble” for retweeting “a transphobic limerick.” A police constable explained that “a victim” (of the limerick being retweeted, that is) reported him to the Scotland Yard, who tracked him down up in Humberside.
Miller was also advised that he was “investigated” for supporting – once again on Twitter – BBC presenter Jenni Murray, who herself was “in trouble” with transgender activists for “questioning whether transgender women are real women.”
The police also told Miller that while he did not actually break any law – he still was guilty.
He’d committed “a non-crime hate incident.”
In subsequent communication, the police went a step further to do their best to give Miller the impression he might actually be prosecuted if he decided to continue expressing his opinions on Twitter. In other words, they tried to intimidate him as a means of shutting him up – since no law had actually been broken, and he could not be legally silenced.
But that didn’t seem to work, as instead of “being prosecuted” Miller sued them for free speech violations. And won.
“I find the combination of the police visiting the claimant’s place of work, and their subsequent statements in relation to the possibility of prosecution, were a disproportionate interference with the claimant’s right to freedom of expression because of their potential chilling effect,” Justice Julian Knowles said on Friday, adding:
“The claimant’s tweets were lawful and there was not the slightest risk that he would commit a criminal offense by continuing to tweet.”
The justice really pulled no punches: “In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.”
Miller, however, commented by saying that the actions of Humberside police “came way too close for comfort.”
“This is a watershed moment for liberty: the police were wrong to visit my workplace, wrong to ‘check my thinking’,” he said.
He may be right in sounding somewhat wary, as others in the UK have not faired as well after being publicly branded as transphobic.
In a similar recent case that didn’t end as favorably, UK woman Kate Scottow, who also had the police arrive at her home – and arrest her in front of her two young children – for calling “a transgender woman a ‘pig in a wig’ in a Twitter row.”
She was put on trial and found guilty for causing “annoyance, inconvenience and needless anxiety” to Stephanie Hayden by persistent use of male pronouns while referring to Hayden.