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A Scottish man who filmed a dog appearing to give Nazi salutes was fined 800 pounds ($1,200) on Monday after being convicted of a hate crime in a case that has sparked a debate about the limits of free speech.
Mark Meechan filmed his girlfriend’s pug responding to phrases such as “sieg heil” by raising its paw and posted the footage on YouTube in 2016.
Meechan — a comedian and video blogger who uses the name Count Dankula — said the stunt was meant as a joke, but he was convicted last month of posting “grossly offensive” material.
A judge at Scotland’s Airdrie Sheriff Court imposed the fine Monday. Sheriff Derek O’Carroll said the video “contained menacing, anti-Semitic and racist material.” The dog was filmed responding to “Gas the Jews,” a phrase repeated 23 times in the video, O’Carroll said.
The judge said that while the right to freedom of expression is very important, “in all modern democratic countries the law necessarily places some limits on that right.”
Outside court, Meechan, 30, said his conviction set a “really dangerous precedent” for free speech and he would appeal. His conviction drew expressions of concern from comedians such as Ricky Gervais. Several far-right commentators also championed Meechan’s right to post the video.
Meechan, whose Youtube channel bears the description “offensive social commentary in an accent you won’t understand,” said Scottish authorities have ignored the context of the dog video.
“It’s the juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar that was the entire point of the joke,” he said.