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Human rights: EU Commissioner calls sentence for racist twitter abuse excessive

Thomas Hammarberg, the European Commissioner responsible for Human Rights has spoken out to criticise the UK justice system for jailing a 21-year-old who posted racist abuse about Fabrice Muamba as he lay fighting for his life.

Liam Stacey is a student at Swansea University. He pleaded guilty in court to causing offence with racist intent, after repeatedly posting abuse about Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba.

The insults came just hours after Mr Muamba had collapsed on the pitch during an FA Cup semi-final tie at Tottenham Hotspur.

The footballer was later revived by doctors, who had manually pumped his heart for over an hour whilst delivering more than 12 electric defibrillator shocks. He remains in intensive care at the London Chest Hospital.

Mr Stacey was sentenced by magistrates to serve 56 days in prison following the remarks. An appeal against the sentence was dismissed last week by a court consisting of three justices. In judgment, Mr Justice Wyn Williams said that the court had no sentencing guidelines to follow.

"There are no applicable sentencing guidelines. We have been referred to no previous decided cases either in the Court of Appeal or at Crown Court to assist in determining an appropriate sentence for this type of offence," he said.

Mr Hammarberg has served as Commissioner for Human Rights for six years. He believes that a prison sentence in this case was not called for, and believes that there should be greater freedom of expression within European borders. He believes that European governments do not know yet how to handle the internet and the challenges that restraining it poses to free speech.

"Politicians are at a bit of loss to know how to protect internet freedom while also having regulations against hate speech and child pornography," he said.

"People are at a loss to know how to apply rules for the traditional media to the new media. It's tricky and that's why there needs to be a more thorough discussion about this," he added.

The comments of Mr Hammarberg are at odds with the recent practice of British courts, who have taken a tough line against online racism, privacy, incitement and libel.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

What is hate crime? (FindLaw)